Iron for women

What is iron?

Iron is a mineral which is essential to ensure healthy blood and normal growth and development.

Women aged between 12 and 50 need more iron than men. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 14mg compared to 10mg per day for men. However, recent research has shown that Irish women in this age group are not getting enough iron.

Which foods can provide me with iron?

The intake of iron is slightly complicated because while certain foods may contain iron, the body may not be able to absorb it as readily as it can from other foods.

To achieve your RDA, you should consume iron in its most absorbable form. One of the best sources of easily absorbed iron is lean, red meat (beef, pork or lamb). This should be eaten three to four times a week.

The iron in red meat can be absorbed up to seven times more easily than iron in fruit, vegetables, nuts and cereals.

Meat is also important because, when eaten at the same meal, it can help to increase the absorption of fruit, vegetables, nuts and cereals. Vitamin C also helps to promote the absorption of iron from these foods. For example if you are eating a vegetable dish, add a glass of orange or grapefruit juice. The vitamin C in the juice will help to promote the absorption of iron from the vegetables.

Chicken and fish is also a good source of iron.

Liver is a good source of iron, but pregnant women should NOT eat liver because of its high vitamin A content.

What tips can I follow to ensure I am getting enough iron?

There are many ways in which you can boost your intake of iron:

  • Drink a glass of orange/grapefruit juice with your breakfast cereal. This will help to increase the absorption from the cereal.
  • Add lean beef, pork or lamb to a vegetable stir fry. This will increase your absorption of iron from the green vegetables.
  • Add a slice of lean beef, pork or lamb to a salad or salad sandwich. The meat will add iron to the snack and will also help to increase your absorption of iron from both the salad and bread.
  • If you are having sausages and rashers for your breakfast, add some black pudding and a tomato.
  • As a snack, have pate on wholemeal bread.
  • Add raisins and dried apricots to beef, pork or lamb curries.
  • Remember baked beans and peas are considered vegetables and should be eaten with some meals during the week.

What if I am a vegetarian?

If you are a vegetarian (or a vegan), you should consult a doctor or nutritionist about your diet.

It is essential that you get enough iron in your diet. Since you are cutting out the food that is recognised as being the best source of easily absorbed iron, i.e. red meat, you have to seek alternative sources.

A nutritionist can advise you on how to ensure you are getting enough iron in your diet, for example taking vitamin C to help with the absorption of iron from vegetables.

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