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What to eat for increased iron levels

WEDNESDAY LIFE
By Angella Wali | December 9th 2015

It is estimated that 1.62 billion people globally suffer from anaemia, with half of these being attributed to iron deficiency. The biggest proportions are preschool children and pregnant women in developing countries.

Even without anaemia, iron deficiency in itself has adverse effects on a person's health. For children, it adversely affects cognitive performance, physical growth and behaviour and it also increases their risk of infections.

For pregnant women, it contributes highly to maternal deaths. Causes of iron deficiency are mostly inadequate dietary intake of iron sources, chronic blood loss, increased needs such as in pregnancy, malaria and in children worm infestation has also being implicated.

Iron deficiency is usually treated by increasing intake of iron rich foods and sometimes one might be put on a supplement.

There are two types of dietary iron: Heme iron and Non-heme iron. Heme iron is from haemoglobin, this is found in animal sources like beef and chicken liver, red meats, fish and oysters. Non-heme iron is found in plant sources like green leafy vegetables, whole grain cereals, dried beans and iron-fortified cereals. Heme iron is usually absorbed better than non-heme iron and thus when consuming non-heme iron, one needs to put in extra effort to ensure it is absorbed.

There are foods that enhance the absorption of iron (especially non-heme iron). These include foods rich in Vitamin C, especially citrus fruits. Foods rich in beta-carotene, a form of Vitamin A, also enhance iron absorption. Combining heme iron (animal source) with non-heme iron (plant source) also enhances the absorption of the non-heme iron. Iron-fortified cereals are also readily available and one might get these instead of plain cereal.

One should avoid too much coffee and tea or taking such with meals as the tannins and polyphenols in tea and coffee inhibit iron absorption. People on calcium supplements should also not take them together with iron-rich foods as calcium also inhibits iron absorption.

Only take iron supplementation when prescribed by your doctor as iron can also be toxic when taken in excess.

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