Last July, I tried to give blood. If you have donated blood before (thank you!) you will know that they check your haemoglobin (Hb) beforehand to make sure that taking blood won’t make your Hb drop to below normal levels. For women, they need your level to be 125g/l and for men it needs to be 135g/l. Unfortunately, mine was 110g/l! This is so low I was advised to see my GP and suspended from donating from a whole year. I chatted to the nurse and she did advise me that there were lots of innocuous reasons for my Hb being low, including heavy periods (check!) and diet, particularly eating a vegan or vegetarian diet (check!). On top of this, we were just coming out of a heatwave which meant for the previous few days I’d been living on salad, fruit and ice lollies. I wasn’t overly concerned but I made the appointment with my GP who decided to test me for EVERYTHING! The results came back quickly and showed that I was deficient in both iron and vitamin D, so he prescribed both. I have been looking at my diet to see if I can make some changes, but as both nutrients are hard to get in a vegan diet, I will be taking supplements for the foreseeable future. Whilst I was researching I discovered that iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, affecting 30% of the population, so I thought it might be helpful to do a short post about iron and why we need it. (Spoiler alert! It’s not just so that we’ll be allowed to give blood!)
Why do we need iron?
Iron is a really important mineral –
- It helps the transport of oxygen around the body and it’s transfer between cells.
- It also helps to keep the immune system healthy.
- It helps the brain to function normally.
Iron deficiency can lead to –
- tiredness and lack of energy
- shortness of breath
- heart palpitations
- pale skin
What foods are good sources of iron?
- liver and other offal
- red meat (70g a day or less)
- fish (e.g, canned sardines, cockles and mussels)
Vegan / vegetarian sources.
- beans – e.g, kidney beans, edamame, chickpeas
- nuts and seeds
- dark green leafy vegetables
- dried fruit – e.g, apricots
- fortified breakfast cereals and breads
- soy bean flour
How much do you need?
- 8.7 mg per day for men over 18
- 8.7 mg per day for women over 50
- 14.8mg per day for aged 19 – 50
What else do I need to know ?
Vitamin C promotes iron absorption so it is important to eat or drink a source of this vitamin with iron rich meals, e.g, drink a glass of orange juice.
Conversely, tannins (found in tea) significantly inhibit iron absorption, so you should be careful not to drink tea to close to meal times or when you take your supplement.
Hopefully you can use this information to avoid anaemia yourself and I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be able to give blood again soon!