We all need iron in our diet and meat is one of the best sources of heme iron. We source all our meat from farms around Sheffield, the Steel city of the north. As some of our recent blogs contained nutritional information and we are now focussing on some individual nutrients.

What does it do?

Iron is an essential element in our diet, as it helps the body to produce haemoglobin. The red cells in our blood carry haemoglobin around the body. This transports the oxygen from our lungs to all the cells of the body.

Symptoms of deficiency

Iron deficiency is the most common deficiency in the world, and so contributes to malnutrition. It is also a form of anaemia, so some of these will also reflect signs of other anaemias.

  • Tiredness
  • Paler complexion
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Light-headed/dizzy
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dry mouth and or tongue swollen and possibly cracked
  • Restless legs, tingling or cramping in the legs.

Some people have no signs at all but may well still have a deficiency

Who needs more iron in their diet?

Approximately 20% of women in Europe are deficient! That’s 1 in 5.  As women menstruate each month, they lose blood, which then needs replacing. This depletes their ferritin stores. Other people at risk are:

  • Pregnant and those who recently gave birth
  • Those who donate blood regularly
  • Vegetarians/vegans, who don’t supplement their diet with iron-rich food.
  • People with stomach ulcers
  • Women of child-bearing age

How do I know if I need more?

If you have some of the symptoms of a deficiency or are in one of the risk groups, then ask your doctor for a Ferritin test. This will give a better indication of your iron stores, rather than the blood count test which measures the circulating iron in your blood that day. If your doctor does diagnose you as having a deficiency, then you may well be prescribed tablets. Do not just take supplements, without a doctors advice, as it is possible to overdo it, and this can be just as damaging too.

Best food sources

Meat is the best source of heme iron, particularly the liver. Red meat has much more iron than white. A small warning about eating lots of liver is that it is so rich in Vitamin A that you should not eat more than a portion per week! Leafy green vegetables, spinach, beans, nuts, seeds, and eggs are great sources too.

Heme vs plant iron

Plant-based iron is non-heme which means that the body needs to convert it into a useable state, using both energy and other resources. If you don’t have those resources then you may think you are eating enough, but you can’t convert it! Also, foods with high levels of phytic acid, for example, wholegrain cereals, can stop your body absorbing iron.

Heme iron found in meat is much more accessible for the body. So, Heme iron is natures ready-packed source. So up your red meat intake, why not grab one of our delicious steaks, add some eggs and leafy greens and you get a more balanced diet.

To help the body absorb the iron, it requires vitamin C, the good news is meat does have some vitamin C. However, nothing wrong with some cauliflower, broccoli, or red peppers to help it along.