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  • Writer's pictureKathy Ozakovic

IRONING OUT THE FACTS – Are you getting enough Iron?

Iron is involved in pretty much every energy production chemical reaction in the body. Download my free Iron(wo)man resource as a summary of this blog. Print and paste inside your pantry for a quick and easy reference guide: DOWNLOAD HERE

Iron is an important part of a healthy diet for all women, men and children.

In 4000 B.C. Persian sailors used iron supplements to compensate for the iron from blood loss during battles. Today the World Health Organisation considers Iron deficiency to be the number one nutritional deficiency globally.


Almost two-thirds of the iron in our body is used in the production of haemoglobin (carries oxygen in the blood), which is essential for energy production, optimal metabolism and immune function. The body also uses iron to create myoglobin (carries oxygen into and around muscles) and in thousands of other biochemical reactions which impact our mood, performance, memory, cell growth.


We often think of red meat as high in Iron, however, check out the table below to see how red meat stacks up compared to some plant-based sources of iron. When our gut is working optimally and our diet is varied, there is no need to eat copious amounts of red meat to reach our Iron requirements. Supplements may be more appropriate for those who have higher requirements as we now know the negative health effects of exceeding the recommended* amounts of red meat (450g raw weight or about 300g cooked, weekly over 3 non-consecutive days).


*recommended by the Australian Heart Foundation


1 tbsp Milo = 6mg Iron

However, Calcium inhibits absorption of Iron!


There are two types of iron.

Haem-iron (easily absorbed by body, found in animal products) and Non-Haem iron (not easily absorbed by body, found in plant sources). Even though plant based sources of iron are not so easy for the body to absorb, there are a few ways we can improve this!


Tips for boosting iron intake

  • Lactobacillus Plantarum 299v, a beneficial probiotic bacteria increases the absorption of Iron from both haem and non- haem sources as well as helps manage the side effects (constipation, bloating, gas) of Iron supplementation. Research showed supplementing with both L. Plantarium + Iron boosted ferritin levels by 70% compared to 42% with Iron alone.

  • Avoid coffee, tea, calcium and zinc 2 hours before/after iron rich meals or supplements as these all reduce iron absorption.

  • Increase your uptake of non-haem iron by eating foods with Vitamin C with your iron rich meals such as citrus (lemon, orange), capsicum, mango, spinach, avocado, tomatoes, rockmelon. Keep in mind Vitamin C is heat sensitive - overcooking your broccoli will cause Vitamin C losses (lightly steam only).


Other things to note

  • Liver is an especially rich source of iron, however pregnant women should avoid liver because it also contains very high levels of Vitamin A.

  • Check your blood copper levels as low copper may also contribute to poor iron absorption

  • Many iron supplements can cause constipation. Be sure to increase fibre rich foods and water in your diet to manage this.


So, what is considered Iron deficiency?

A deficiency of iron means that, over time, less oxygen is delivered to the body cells, causing tiredness, lethargy and impaired physical and mental performance. Iron deficiency progresses in three stages.

  • Stage 1: Iron depletion – haemoglobin (blood) levels are normal, but the body’s stored iron levels (Ferritin) is very low. This stage is usually symptomless.

  • Stage 2: Iron deficiency – Both stored iron and haemoglobin levels have dropped below normal and you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, unusual food cravings.

  • Stage 3: Iron deficiency anaemia – Haemoglobin levels are so low that the blood is unable to deliver oxygen to the cells. Symptoms include: very pale appearance, breathlessness, fatigue, impaired immune function.


The World Health Organisation estimated that as many as 80% of the world’s population may be iron deficient (stage 2), while 30% may have iron deficiency anaemia (stage 3).


Who needs Iron supplementation?

Teenage girls, women experiencing heavy menstruation, athletes and very active individuals are especially prone to iron deficiency. Regular exercise increases the body’s need for iron by increasing red blood cell production and iron is lost in perspiration.


Iron supplementation may be needed if you are Iron depleted and are not getting enough iron from your food due to increased requirements (age, gender, activity levels), poor absorption (inhibitors, gut health, trauma).


Depending on the severity of iron deficiency, duration and the underlying cause different treatments will be recommended. Below are the methods I have personally experienced as well as seen clients go through:

  • Stage 1 Treatment: Hemagenics Iron Maintain or Hemagenics Iron Advanced (download information here for more information)

  • Stage 2 Treatment: Liquid Iron supplementation – Spatone (Chemist Warehouse). Take at night for better absorption together with L.Plantarum (299v). Improvements in Ferritin levels will be seen after 1 – 2 months if individuals’ absorption is good.

  • Stage 2 or 3 treatment: In most severe cases and where there is little to no improvement with regular iron supplementation after 2 – 3 months, an Iron infusion will be recommended. This is delivered through a canula and takes 45 – 60min. This is to prevent Iron permanently staining the skin!



So, are you getting enough Iron? If you or someone you know are worried about your Iron intake and would like to discuss your individualised requirements and current dietary intake, book a consult HERE

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Did you find this blog helpful and informative? Tag & Share with your friends who would love it too! Sign up for my Free NuFit Wellness Newsletter to stay in the loop. Attend my Wellness Workshops. Promoting consciousness in food choices helping people heal. Dietitian & Wellness Coach, Health Presenter, Gut Health Specialist - Kathy Ozakovic.

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KEYWORDS: Iron, Deficiency, Anaemia, Haem, Food, Boost, Vitamin C, Probiotics, Haemoglobin, Energy, Oxygen, Fatigue, Tired, Vegetarian, Plant, Sources.

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