What is iron and why is it important?

Iron is necessary for the normal production of haemoglobin in red blood cells. If iron stores are low, normal haemoglobin production slows down. This means the transport of oxygen around the body decreases, resulting in symptoms such as fatigue and tiredness. Iron also contributes to the normal function of the immune system.

Our bodies can’t produce iron by themselves so it is important we consume sufficient amounts of iron in our diet. Although the NRV (Nutrient Value Reference ) for iron intake is approximately 14mg, the amount we need is actually much less, between 1-2mg. This is because we only absorb approximately 5-20 per cent of iron from our food.

Most people don’t realise that substances in certain foods can inhibit the absorption of iron such as teas (tannin ) and coffee (caffeine ), dairy foods and supplements containing calcium, raw cereal (phytates ), and carbonated drinks (phosphates ).

Who needs extra iron?

Women - Iron is the only mineral where women’s requirements are greater than men’s, due to menstrual blood loss and pregnancy. Iron is one of the most difficult minerals for the body to absorb.

Pregnant women can be prone to low iron levels as babies get the iron they need to grow and develop from their mothers. An adult woman needs to absorb between 1.5-2mg of iron per day. For a pregnant woman, this can increase to 2-4mg in the second trimester and 3-6mg in the third trimester.

Women who exercise – Runners especially need to ensure appropriate iron intake because of ‘foot strike’ haemolysis (repeated pounding of the feet on a hard surface which can damage red blood cells ) and iron loss through sweating and urine production.

Vegetarians - There is no shortage of iron in vegetables. Pulses and soya bean products provide an excellent source of iron, as do dark green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, dried fruits, black treacle, and plain dark chocolate. It’s worth noting though that only up to 20 per cent of the iron in plant-based foods can be absorbed by our stomachs and many foods that are rich in iron are also rich in substances that inhibit the absorption of iron, examples being phytates, polyphenols, tannins, calcium, and oxalic acid.

Children – Growth spurts and picky eating can lead to some children having low iron levels. Iron plays a role in physical and normal cognitive development during childhood.

Teenagers – Iron requirements increase dramatically during puberty to cater for rapid growth, menstruation in teenage girls, and considerable gains in bone and muscle volume in teenage boys.

Over 60s – As we get older, our capacity to absorb iron diminishes. This coupled with a reduction in appetite can lead to depleted iron levels.

Spatone Apple contains iron rich water which can help top up iron levels whilst causing fewer of the unpleasant side effects often experienced with conventional iron food supplements. The iron naturally present in Spatone has been shown to be easily absorbed, with an average of 40 per cent bioavailability. Spatone is available from healthstores and pharmacies nationwide.

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