Keeping an eye on your iron

The Tick Team offer some simple, practical ideas on how to boost your iron intake.

When we feel tired or find it difficult to concentrate, it is usually lack of sleep that takes the blame. But when was the last time you thought about your iron levels? Iron is a mineral found in every cell of the body and is vital for good health. We need iron to produce haemoglobin in our blood, which carries oxygen to our tissues and brain. Not only is it important for physical and mental wellbeing, but it also helps us build a strong immunity.

Many New Zealanders may not realise that they have low iron levels. To raise awareness of the importance of iron in our diet, Beef and Lamb New Zealand are facilitating Iron Awareness Week from 7-13th April. The amount of iron you need depends on your age and life stage. Toddlers, teens, women (particularly during pregnancy), athletes and vegetarians or vegans are all at a higher risk of being iron deficient. If you are concerned about your iron levels, chat to your doctor about having a blood test.

So what can you do boost your iron intake?

1. Get to know your iron sources.
There are two types of iron found in food: Haem iron and non-haem iron. Haem iron is found in meat, fish and poultry and is easily absorbed by the body (red meat in particular is an excellent source of haem iron). Browse our recipes to find some tasty iron-rich meal ideas such as Beef Nachos with Avocado Salsa or Garlic and Wine Glazed Roast Lamb with Mint Pesto. Plant foods, such as dried peas, beans, lentils and fruit contain non-haem iron. Although we do not absorb this type of iron as easily, these economic foods are still a good choice for people who may eat little or no meat.

2. Brighten up your plate.
You can help your body absorb non-haem iron by eating foods rich in vitamin C such as dark leafy vegetables, kiwifruit, berries and citrus fruit. Get creative by tossing fruit or vegetables into your salads as in this Spinach, Baby Kale and Kumara Pilaf.  

3. Save your hot drinks for between meals.
Some nutrients make it difficult for your body to use non-haem iron, for example, tannins in tea and calcium in milk. To help maximise the amount of iron you absorb from food, it’s a good idea to save these drinks for between meals.
In your supermarket you will find a variety of Tick approved lean meat, poultry, seafood, cereals, lentils and legumes. These are just a few products that will help boost your iron intake. Check out our Tick Shopping Guide for more!