Let's chat about Iron (Fe)
Updated: Feb 3
In this blog post, I’ll have a small discussion around one of our most important minerals, IRON. I’ll discuss what the symptoms are when deficient and how we can help with supplementing our iron levels with certain types of foods. Here you will learn to be proactive and not reactive.
May I also disclaim that I am not a doctor, these are suggestions to help you stay proactive, not reactive. What I have referred to in this comes from valid, scientific articles, NZ Ministry of Health guidelines as well as my own experiences. So if you’re reading this and have already tried the majority of what I have suggested, please seek medical advice.
Firstly, what is Iron?
Iron is one of the top 20, most important minerals our body needs. Its role is to transport oxygen from the lungs to the bodies tissues via red blood cell haemoglobin. Iron is stored in red bone marrow, liver and the spleen and plays a very important role in carrying oxygen around the body and for protein in our muscles. It also has a strong job with helping us have a healthy immune system and fight off any threats and infections. It’s also incredibly important for the function of our brains!
There are a number of determining factors when it comes to the causes of low iron. It can be from poor diets, heavy periods, the lack of iron rich foods over a long period of time, and some fad diets that can be restricting to iron.
Iron is mostly important in developing stages and are known to be deficient in infants, adolescents, especially teenage girls going through menstruation, pregnant women and athletes.
Iron in women and athletes
As women, we need to be proactive to stay on top of our intake of iron. We lose around 80ml of blood during our menstrual cycle, which is about 6-8 teaspoons. Women who experience heavier periods will lose more than 80ml and up to 16 teaspoons for those who experience a 7-day period.
When it comes to athletes, a lot of them are restricted from iron rich foods since the majority are following a restrictive diet and this can cause a deficiency, since athletes are continuously developing their biomechanics for better performance and aren’t always able to refuel the body with the iron it needs.
I mentioned earlier, how iron plays a vital role in the help of providing protein to our muscles. Iron works in the conversion of blood glucose to energy and this is super important for athletes to be able to use this for peak performance during exercise or when they’re competing. Iron is also helpful in the production of new cells, amino acids and neurotransmitters. The enzymes involved in this production are heavily dependent on iron since it’s important during the recovery process from strenuous exercises or from illness. This goes to show that athletes who have an iron deficiency, will have high chances of experiencing long and slow recovery, resulting in major DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).
So, if you’re wondering whether or not you may be low in iron, this is where we will be talking about the symptoms that a lot of us encounter in our day to day lives. Including myself.
Have you ever woken up with a ton of energy and by 10am, you feel really deflated, dizzy, tired and just find it hard to carry yourself around in general? You may be experiencing the symptoms of an iron deficiency.
1 in 14 NZ women are low in iron and experience the following symptoms.
Shortness of breath
Poor muscle recovery
Cold body temperature
It took me a good while to realise I was low in iron. I was actually told when I went to give blood, the nurse told me my Haemoglobin levels were at the minimum range (120). Ideally, women sit between the 120-140 range. I was 119.99.
I myself also had experienced the effects of low iron and man it was frustrating. The following occurred every day…
Fatigue- I would wake up at 8am full of energy, then as soon 10am came around, I would battle to carry myself around.
Bruising- I bruised like a peach. From the smallest things like flicking my waist band on my tights when I pulled them up. I’d have silly bruises on my hips as well as just little one up my arms with no memory on how they got there. And my goodness I was no good whenever I did deadlifts! My shins were butchered!
Low body temperature- I would also be cold to the bone, so bloody cold, all the damn time and it took a good effort to get warm again.
Dizziness- I’d also needed to remind myself to sit up from a seat slowly to avoid seeing stars from standing up too quick. Sometimes I’d would literally just be on the couch and a wave of dizziness would come over me.
Poor muscle recovery- One last thing to add to my list of complaints here is that my muscle recovery was shi-! Just absolutely piss poor. This was a battle since I get a massive high from a good functional workout, so having to miss a few sessions from major DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) every week, really frustrated me.
Sounds like I’m complaining, I definitely am in a way but I’m also writing this for a reason. The reason being that if you’re reading this and you’re also experiencing some minor symptoms of what I had. I’m telling you now, act on it. Don’t be stubborn like me and play it out, and keep saying “She’ll be right” until it gets worse. You’re a dick if you do. I was.
Supplementing iron with food
Now that we know what the symptoms are, we can act fast and be sure to avoid the effects of low iron. A good way to start this, is with food!
Foods high in Iron
Below, I have provided a simple list of foods from the NZ Nutrition Foundation that will supplement you with the Iron we need!
Foods containing haem iron
1 grilled lean beef fillet steak (173g) 5.8
½ cup green mussels, marinated 7.5
2 grilled lean lamb leg steaks (116g) 4
1 slice fried lamb liver 4
90g can salmon 2.1
1 grilled chicken breast (107g) 2
1 grilled lean pork loin chops (74g) 0.2
1 baked terakihi fillet 0.8
(New Zealand Nutrition Foundation, 2019).
Foods containing non-haem iron
100g tofu 5.4
1 cup porridge 1.3
1 Wheat biscuit 1.5
½ cup cooked red kidney beans 2
½ cup cooked boiled lentils 1.2
½ cup fruity muesli 1.9
½ cup cooked chickpeas 1.6
1 cup boiled broccoli 0.9
½ cup baked beans 1.6
10 dates 1.3
1 cup boiled spinach 2.5
1 boiled egg 0.9
1 slice multigrain bread 0.7
(New Zealand Nutrition Foundation, 2019).
So in summary, don't wait out the symptoms of low Iron. If you think that you are deficient, act on it! It will truly help you in the long run. If you're an athletic women, or a pregnant women, be sure to keep a good intake on iron up and don't slack it.
I hope this post has helped you in someway. Remember, this is a guide. I'm making suggestions given of NZ Ministry Guidelines and off my own experience so if you're still feeling unsure, please seek some medical advice and all the best!
Gupta.c, November 2014. Journal of Applied Chemistry. The Role of Iron (Fe) in the Body.
Health Navigator NZ [website], 2020.
New Zealand Nutrition Foundation [website], 2019.
Ministry of Health NZ. Healthy Eating. [website]. 2020.