Iron is an incredibly important nutrient and a component of haemoglobin that is crucial in the transport of oxygen rich blood throughout your body. Because of its role in oxygen transportation, iron also plays a key role in your energy levels as well as your ability to focus and concentrate. So for these reasons iron is important in everyone’s diet, whether you are a male or a female.
Despite this, women are more susceptible to becoming deficient in iron than men, which makes it even more important for us to not only ensure we are getting enough iron in our diet, but also to make sure that we are properly absorbing the iron we are ingesting.
Firstly, let’s look at the reasons why women often require more iron than men:
- Menstruation - Due to our monthly period, women lose between 30-80 ml of blood each month. Loss of blood means a drop in iron levels. Because of this it is even more important to eat foods rich in iron around the time of menstruation. This is why women often get strong cravings for foods rich in iron such as red meats, prune juice or nuts and seeds at this time.
- Pregnancy - During pregnancy, the female body increases its blood volume by almost 50%! That’s a whole lot more blood that needs to be carrying oxygen. Not only that, you are also growing a baby, so your unborn child will also need extra iron to support healthy development.
- After Child Birth - Breastfeeding mothers are more susceptible to becoming depleted in nutrients as they feed their newborn child. Blood Loss during childbirth is a common occurrence and this is another reason why it is an important time to ensure that your body’s iron levels are up.
- Puberty - The many changes occurring in the body, including growth spurts and the onset of menstruation, means that teenage girls often experience a more dramatic drop in iron levels, therefore this is an incredibly important time to make sure that they are getting plenty of iron in their diet.
Iron deficiency, or anaemia, is more common than you might think, with around 15% of Australian woman aged between 18-30 being deficient in iron. Because iron is so important in your body, having low iron levels can cause a variety of symptoms, depending on how severe the anaemia is.
Symptoms can include:
- Feeling weak
- Pale skin
- Pale gums
- Shortness of breath
- Brittle nails
- Cold hands and feet
- Swollen tongue
- Strange cravings to eat non-food items such as dirt or clay
Many people believe that red meats are the best, or only real iron source, which is just not true. Even though your body absorbs iron from red meats and seafood, more readily, it is also very good at adapting. If you live on a vegetarian diet, your body learns to adjust and absorb the nutrient just as efficiently from plant sources.
Excellent sources of iron in the diet include:
- Red meat
- Dark green leafy vegetables
Unfortunately though, some people just don’t absorb iron from foods as well as others, and for this reason they may require supplements or even booster shots to ensure they don’t become anaemic.
Don’t worry though, if you are concerned that your body might be deficient in iron then make an appointment to speak with your GP. Testing your iron levels is a very simple process and will either give you peace of mind or indicate that you might need to increase the iron in your diet or consider taking supplements to help you get your levels back up.