Are you getting enough iron?

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?

Animal sources.

  • 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
  • quinoa

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!


What the heck is a “macro” anyway?

If you have tried to lose weight, get fit, or even just read an article in a magazine recently, there’s a good chance you will have heard of “macros”. Everyone talks about “counting their macros” nowadays, but do you know what they are?

It’s quite simple really. “Macros” is short for macronutrients. That might not help much but it just means the nutrients that we need to consume in large amounts, i.e, proteins, fats and carbohydrates. (as opposed to micronutrients – nutrients we need to eat in small amounts, such as vitamins and minerals).

The average person (not on a special diet due to a medical condition) should aim to get 50-55% of their calories (kcals) from carbohydrates, 30-35% from fats and 10-15% from proteins. You can manually work all this out if you are tracking your food intake – carbohydrates and proteins provide 4kcals per gram whilst fats provide 9kcals per gram. However, it’s a lot easier to use a free app such as myfitnesspal, which also calculates roughly how many calories you should be eating a day (though I will do a post about that later – I want to focus on food quality rather than quantity for now) . If you read my previous post about having a balanced diet and want to start making some adjustments, you might find it helpful to start tracking your food to see where your intake is at the moment. If your macronutrient percentages are roughly okay, then have a look at the foods that make up those numbers and see if there are any healthy swaps you can make e.g, swap white starchy carbohydrates for wholegrain versions. If not, try and reduce things you are having too much of – maybe grill or bake instead of fry to reduce fat – and increase your intake in areas where you are lacking. If you stick to the recommendations in the Eatwell guide your macros can’t go far wrong! I’ve highlighted which foods are good sources of which macros below, but please contact me if you have any questions.


Practically everything has some protein in it. The best sources are eggs, dairy, meat and soya bean, with lentils, chickpeas and wheat not far behind. Proteins are made up of amino acids and there are 9 amino acids we need to eat every day. Animal protein and soya beans contain all of these essential amino acids but if you eat a good variety of foods, you can get all the amino acids you need from other sources.


As well making up the bulk of most spreads and oils, fats are also present within foods such as meat, cheese, nuts and seeds, and are added to processed foods such as chocolate and crisps. If you need to reduce your fat intake, try and reduce fats from the sources outside the Eatwell plate (processed foods) rather than cutting down on healthy fats or foods that provide other important nutrients, such as dairy and nuts.


Sugar is a carbohydrate, but you should aim for the bulk of your carbohydrates to be from starchy foods, and ideally from wholegrain sources such as wholemeal bread and brown rice. Fruits and vegetables are also a source of carbohydrate and you should aim to eat at least 5 portions a day. Obviously, fruit is sweet. This is because it contains natural sugar. Unless you are diabetic though, (in which case you need more specialist advice) don’t worry about that too much for now. Get in the habit of choosing healthy snacks first, and we’ll worry about tweaks later. Fruit and veg contain other nutrients and fibre, and will always be a better choice than an unhealthy snack.

So, that’s the gist of “macros”. You can count them if you want to, and if you’ve been advised to eat specific amounts of one or more of them, you might want to get an app to make your life easier. However, you don’t have to. If you want to improve your diet trying to eat in line with the Eatwell Guide is a great start – and there is no maths needed!

I’ll be doing future posts about each of the macronutrients – which one are you most interested to hear about? Let me know below and I’ll do that first!


A Balanced Diet

You’ve probably heard the term “balanced diet” a million times, but do you know what it really means? There are lots of different definitions out there, but, basically, it means eating a variety of food which gives you all the nutrients you require to stay healthy whilst providing the right amount of energy for your needs . As we are all different, a balanced diet won’t look the same for everyone. Our bodies vary a lot, not only size and shape, but in how they process food and cope with exercise, and our tastes vary wildly too. This will sound obvious, but If you want to make any changes to your diet – either to lose or gain weight, or to try and eat more healthily, it’s important to make sure you eat foods you ENJOY! What I really want to do is to help people understand what it is that they are eating so the can not only make any changes that they need to, but to understand WHY they are making them.

An easy way to see what your diet should look like is to check out the Eatwell Guide

The Eatwell Plate

If you would like to read more about the Eatwell Guide you can do so here

As you can see, the bulk of your diet should be made up of wholegrain or fibre-rich starchy foods and fruit and vegetables, with a smaller proportion made up of protein based foods, and dairy (and dairy alternative) products. Fats and oils should be limited and highly processed foods like crisps and chocolate are shown outside the plate to indicate that they should only be eaten occasionally. I will be sticking broadly to these guidelines so if you’re looking for the latest fad diet, this isn’t the site for you!

In future posts I will talk about the different food groups shown above in more detail, explain the different macro- and micronutrients needed as well as energy requirements for different groups and any other topics that come to mind. This is a very quick intro as I am pretty busy studying for my Level 4 qualification but if you have any questions or topics you’d like me to cover, please get in touch via my facebook or instagram pages. Thanks for visiting my page!