Young women and iron

Healthy eating for young women

The best way to keep your iron within healthy levels and prevent iron deficiency is by eating iron-rich foods regularly.

Are you low in iron?

The symptoms of iron deficiency are subtle and can be mistaken for a ‘busy lifestyle’. If you have any of these symptoms, you may be low in iron and should see your doctor:

  • Tiredness (even after rest)
  • Lack of energy
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability
  • Frequent infections


Are you at risk of iron deficiency?

If you’re a young female, pregnant or breastfeeding, you may be at risk of iron deficiency. Women have increased requirements for iron due to:

  • Monthly blood loss associated with heavy periods
  • Support baby growth in pregnancy and during breastfeeding
  • Low meat intake, in particular low red meat intake


Why do you need iron?

Iron is used by the body to carry oxygen in the blood. Iron is important for:

  • Energy – iron is essential for producing energy from food
  • Brain function – iron carries oxygen to the brain to help us concentrate and learn
  • To fight infection – the immune system depends on iron to work properly, so if you are low in iron, you may be more prone to infections
  • Healthy growth and development – in babies, toddlers and children


What is the role of iron supplements?

The best way to prevent deficiency is to eat iron-rich foods regularly. However if you are iron deficient, your doctor may prescribe an iron supplement to help your iron levels return to normal. Most people find that once their iron levels have return to normal, they no longer require supplements. Eating an iron-rich diet will help to maintain healthy iron levels.


Which foods contain iron?

A wide variety of foods contain iron, however foods high in iron are not necessarily absorbed by the body in the same way.

Iron found in beef, lamb, pork, chicken and fish is well absorbed by the body. Comparatively, the iron found in cereals with added iron, tofu, spinach, eggs and legumes is less well absorbed by the body.

The best sources or iron are beef and lamb as they are high in well absorbed iron. Eating an iron-rich diet which includes 130g of cooked beef or lamb every second day is recommended in the Australian Dietary Guidelines.


Tips for an iron rich diet

  • Eat iron-rich foods, including beef and lamb 3 to 4 times a week

  • Maximise iron absorption from plant based foods (e.g.cereals with added iron, tofu, spinach, eggs, legumes) by combining them with either vitamin-C rich foods (e.g. orange, strawberries, tomato, broccoli) or foods containing haem iron (e.g. beef, lamb)

  • If you drink tea, coffee or cola, have them between meals as they decrease the amount of iron absorbed from the meal

For more information, download the ‘Are you getting enough iron’ brochure

 

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