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Low iron: what to eat to promote normal levels of iron in the body

When iron is low, i.e., when we are dealing with sideropenia, it is important to know what to eat and what not to eat in order to maintain normal blood iron levels. In this article, we will learn more about the most appropriate dietary behaviours to be adopted in order to deal with a possible iron deficiency or an increased bodily need for this nutrient.

Low iron and diet: which foods to choose

Iron is an essential nutrient for our body, as it is a mineral necessary for the formation of haemoglobin, for the proper functioning of the immune system and for supporting normal cognitive function. Iron is also important for the growth and normal development of children and adolescents

Under normal health conditions, daily iron requirements are met by a varied and balanced diet. Nutrition, in fact, enables us to rebalance the physiological losses of iron that our body eliminates through faeces, sweat and, in the case of women, menstruation or breastfeeding. 

In the event of low iron, it is even more important to follow a diet that ensures an adequate iron intake. Your doctor will tell you what to eat and what to avoid if you have an iron deficiency, low sideremia or low haemoglobin values.

Foods containing iron

Foods contain iron in two forms: 

  • Haem iron, bound to haemoproteins (haemoglobin and myoglobin), is more easily assimilated, but is only present in animal-based foods (meat, liver, spleen, fish, molluscs).
  • Non-haem or inorganic iron is also present in plant-based foods (green leafy vegetables, legumes, dried fruit), but is only assimilated when reduced to bivalent iron by specific enzymes in the body. 

Both haem iron and non-haem iron consumed with food are absorbed in the intestine (in the duodenum). Some factors, however, facilitate the absorption of haem iron over non-haem iron. Haem iron is more assimilable by our body for two reasons:

  1. is better protected from any substances that decrease the absorption of this nutrient;
  2. there are specific sites on the cells of the intestinal villi epithelium for the absorption of haem iron.

The absorption of non-haem iron, on the other hand, is more variable as it is influenced by substances that can decrease its absorption and requires the mediation of enzymes that reduce trivalent iron (not assimilable) to bivalent iron (assimilable by intestinal cells). However, some nutrients can promote the absorption of iron in the intestine. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a nutrient present in fruits and vegetables that promotes the absorption of non-haem iron

Vegan diet, vegetarian diet and low iron

It is not necessarily the case that those who follow a vegan diet or a vegetarian diet can necessarily have low iron. The levels of iron in the blood are determined by several factors and nutrition is only one of them. As regards nutrition, it should also be mentioned that some plant-based foods are rich in iron as well as in vitamin C, an important cofactor for the adequate absorption of iron. Cabbage or broccoli are just two examples of foods containing significant amounts of iron and vitamin C. The combination of iron-rich foods (green leafy vegetables, legumes, dried fruits) and vitamin C-rich foods such as kiwis, oranges, tomatoes and lemons also facilitates the absorption of non-haem iron contained in plant-based foods. 

Low Iron: what to eat and what to avoid 

Low iron is a condition that can be determined by several factors. It is recommended to discuss with your doctor what the causes of your iron deficiency may be. However, one of the factors that can lead to low iron levels is inadequate nutrition. 

Iron-rich foods suitable for people with low iron include the following:

  • Liver, spleen and offal
  • Meat (mainly turkey, horse, beef)
  • Fish (mackerel, snapper, sardine, anchovy, tuna)
  • Molluscs and crustaceans
  • Egg yolk
  • Dried legumes
  • Soya flour
  • Oat flakes
  • Green leafy vegetables (spinach, endive, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli)
  • Whole grain cereals
  • Dried mushrooms

 Foods that can reduce the absorption of dietary iron (especially non-haem iron) include all foods containing significant amounts of calcium (milk and dairy products), phytates (some cereals and legumes), oxalates (spinach, rhubarb) and tannins (coffee, tea, chocolate, wine). 

In the event of deficiency or increased bodily iron requirements, your doctor may also recommend the use of a dietary supplement to restore normal iron levels in your body
The SiderAL® range consists of food supplements containing Sucrosomial Iron® which can be useful in cases of iron deficiency or increased iron requirements.

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