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Iron and female nutrition

Did you know that women need more iron than men?

The mineral iron is vital for healthy blood and normal growth and development. Due to monthly blood losses women need more dietary iron than men (14mg compared to 10mg). This is of concern because according to the most recent National Nutrition Survey 61% of women, 18-64 years, have inadequate iron intakes with 1 in 3 Irish women having low iron stores, and 1 in 30 having iron deficiency anaemia.

Eat up your reds - as well as your greens

It is not just the quantity of iron in our diets that counts because there are different types of iron in different foods. The one present in meat is absorbed much more easily than the one in fruit vegetables and cereals.

Red meat is one of the best sources of easily absorbed iron - it can be absorbed up to seven times more easily than iron in vegetables, cereals, fruits or nuts. Meat, eaten at the same meal, can help to increase the absorption of iron from vegetables, cereals, fruits and nuts. A good source of vitamin C (e.g. orange or grapefruit juice) can also help to promote the absorption of iron from these foods. Therefore, to boost your iron intake, try to include rich sources of iron (e.g. beef, pork or lamb) in your diet three to four times per week. Also, be clever about how you combine your foods at mealtimes to make the most of the less well absorbed iron.

The tasty way to increase your iron intake

  • Try a low fat lunch of a couple of slices of lean beef, pork or lamb with salad in pitta bread or wholemeal bread. The meat provides a great source of iron but also helps your body to use more of the iron from both the salad and bread
  • Avoid drinking tea with your meals as the tannins in tea can reduce the amount of iron your body can use from vegetable sources of iron.
  • Take orange juice with your breakfast cereal, or fresh grapefruit as a starter. They will help to increase the absorption of iron from your meals.
  • Eat a 100g serving of lean beef, pork or lamb three to four times a week. Other rich sources of iron include liver*, kidneys and black pudding.
  • Combine meat and dark green vegetables in meals, e.g. beef stir fry or lamb and spinach curry.
  • Black pudding is a great source of dietary iron and can be used with egg and tomato for breakfast, in a salad at lunchtime, or get creative and use it in stuffing or even a pizza topping at dinner!
  • Stuff vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, cabbage leaves and aubergines with tasty minced beef, pork or lamb.
  • Use leftover cooked beef, pork or lamb in tasty salads or sandwiches, e.g. beef, broccoli and kidney bean salad.
  • As a light lunch or snack, try paté on wholemeal bread or crackers.
  • Remember, most people can get all the iron they need from their diet without having to take supplements.

* Pregnant women should not eat liver because of its high vitamin A content.

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