- By capturing the iron and keeping it in the reduced ferrous form, ready for absorption, vitamin C also improves non-heme iron absorption from foods consumed during the same meal.
- Some food components bind with non-heme iron and prevent absorption.
Millions of people struggle with iron, a necessary nutrient that is crucial to many of the functions of cells.
Some individuals simply don't consume enough iron-rich foods to support their health optimally, while others absorb excessive amounts of iron that endanger their well-being.
The idea that having too little or too much of a nutrient in the body can be harmful is best illustrated by the case of iron.
The body has multiple mechanisms for maintaining iron homeostasis, guarding against both deficiency and overload.
Low haemoglobin levels may result from a low-iron diet. 80 per cent of the body's iron is contained in haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein of red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all of the body's tissues.
Infants, young children, and teenagers are at a high risk of iron deficiency because certain life stages call for more iron stores.
This puts women in their reproductive years at risk for iron deficiency due to repeated blood losses during menstruation, pregnant women at risk due to the additional iron needed to support the added blood volume, fetus growth, and blood loss during childbirth, and women in general.
The source of iron plays a role in its absorption.
Foods can contain iron in two different ways: heme iron, which is only present in foods made from animal flesh, such as meats, poultry, and fish, and non-heme iron, which can be found in both plants- and animal-based foods.
In addition to the readily absorbed heme iron found in meat, fish, and poultry, these foods also contain a peptide known as the MFP factor, which aids in the absorption of non-heme iron from other foods consumed at the same meal.
By capturing the iron and keeping it in the reduced ferrous form, ready for absorption, vitamin C also improves non-heme iron absorption from foods consumed during the same meal.
Some food components bind with non-heme iron and prevent absorption.
These components include phytates in legumes, calcium in milk, and polyphenols like tannic acid in tea, coffee, grain goods, oregano, and red wine. When eating an iron-rich diet, it is best to stay away from such foods.
Symptoms of low haemoglobin levels that signal you need to check your iron intake;
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Body weakness
- Paleness in the tongue and eye lining
- Poor resistance to cold weather
The following foods can help boost your haemoglobin levels
- Lean red meat
- Fortified cereals
- Liver- except during pregnancy
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Dietary supplements should be prescribed when necessary like during pregnancy and severely low blood levels.
It is also advisable to include foods high in vitamin C in your diet regularly to improve iron absorption.
Examples of sources of vitamin C-rich foods
- Leafy vegetables
- Citrus fruits like oranges
It's crucial to test for folate, vitamin B12, and vitamin A insufficiency if you have iron deficiency anaemia since these deficiencies can lead to low haemoglobin levels and infectious diseases like malaria, TB, HIV, and parasitic infections.
Lucy Chege is a registered and licensed nutritionist based in Kenya, proficient in medical nutrition therapy.