OH! Magazine - Australian Version December 2018 - Page 16

( NUTRITION ) NUTRITION Q&A ASHLEIGH FELTHAM Ashleigh Feltham answers your nutrition and health questions. Q UESTION: I’ve just been told I have low iron. What should I do now? ANSWER: When you have low iron levels, you tend to feel run down, tired, have regular headaches, constantly fatigued, unable to fully concentrate, and unable to cope with any intense session at the gym. Interestingly, almost two in three Australian women, aged over 18 years, have an iron deficiency. If your body is iron deficient it means you don’t have enough iron required to function properly. There can be many causes of low iron, including: • • • • • You have heavy periods. Your genes may predispose you to this condition. You are an elite athlete and not eating extra iron-rich sources needed, which can cause damage to your red blood cells. Gut conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and coeliac disease. If you are a vegetarian or vegan and not eating enough plant sources to achieve your iron needs. The first step to resolution is supplementation with iron supplements. Talk to your GP about which one is best for you. In addition to this, a diet rich in iron is equally as helpful in the long-term to keep your iron levels in a range your body needs. 16 OH! MAGAZINE ( JUNE 2018 ) How much iron do you need? Women aged 18 to 50 years need 18mg of iron every day which can seem like a big ask when considering that men require less than half the amount, at just 8mg a day. How to get enough from your diet Haem iron is the easiest source of iron for your body to use and this is the same iron you’ll find in animal meats, chicken and fish; your body can absorb 20 per cent of haem iron. The other type is non-haem or the non- animal form of iron, which is contained in plant foods like wholegrains, legumes, tofu, fortified food and beverage products, leafy greens and nuts and seeds. Unfortunately, only 6.4 to 18 per cent of non-haem iron is absorbed in your gut, which is one reason why vegetarians and vegans need to be mindful to include sufficient iron-rich foods in their diet. The daily recommendation for women aged over 18 years, is to eat 2.5 serves of meat sources or alternatives; 6 serves of whole grains; and 5 serves of vegetables. Eating from these three categories ensures a balanced diet that also covers all the necessary sources of iron. If you are a vegetarian or vegan here are a few tips to help your body absorb more iron: 1. Include a source of vitamin C with your meal, such as a side salad that is sprinkled with vinegar or lemon juice; this is a great way to increase the absorption on non-haem iron. 2. Do not drink any tea or coffee with your meal, as the caffeine, tannins and polyphenols will stop iron from being absorbed in your gut. 3. If you take calcium or iron supplements, avoid doing so when you want to absorb iron, as the calcium will bind to the iron, and your body won’t be able to absorb it. 4. Oxalate and phytates are not a friend to iron. These are found in spinach, legumes and foods that are high in fibre. Try using these handy tips to increase the amount of iron absorbed in your diet, and if in doubt seek out a professional such as an accredited practicing dietitian to make sure you are meeting all your body’s needs. YOU CAN CONTACT ASHLEIGH VIA: Web: feedyourfuturedietetics.com Facebook: FeedYourFutureDietetics Instagram: @feedyourfuturedietetics