Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient disorder in the developing and developed world, including New Zealand where the issue remains a serious concern, particularly amongst Kiwi women and children.
Over 100 health professionals gathered in Auckland recently to discuss the alarming statistics, which emphasise the importance of iron in our diets.
Dr Kathryn Beck of Massey University who presented on the iron status of teens and women states the figures around low iron status in New Zealand are staggering.
‘With one in 14 women low in iron and over a third of teenage girls not achieving their daily requirement of iron, we need to think more about how we’re eating and when we’re eating.
‘Drinking tea and coffee with meals is discouraged as this prevents the uptake of iron from plant sources, such as breakfast cereal. Including meat and vitamin C foods such as fruit and vegetables with a meal helps the body absorb the iron from the entire meal,’ says Dr Beck.
Iron deficiency starts young
Dr Clare Wall of the University of Auckland reiterated the importance of iron in Kiwi kids given the fact 8 out of ten toddlers are not meeting the recommended daily intake of dietary iron.
‘At seven months a baby needs more iron than her dad, however 14% of children under 2 are deficient. When iron has such a vital part to play in brain development in the first two years of life, this is of concern. Iron-rich foods, including puréed red meat need to be introduced into the diet at around 6 months of age’, says Dr Wall.
And for a country that prides itself so highly on the success of its sporting achievements, it’s surprising iron deficiency is often overlooked by our top athletes.
‘Iron depletion is a common issue in elite athletes, which can impair their performance. Dietary iron is vital for endurance adaptation,’ says Alex Popple of High Performance Sport New Zealand.
Many New Zealanders aren’t aware of symptoms associated with low iron levels such as feeling tired, irritable and grumpy, having difficulty concentrating and feeling the cold, which are often put down to running a hectic lifestyle.
Where can you get more iron?
Iron is found in a number of foods, including red meat, but not all iron is equal. The iron found in plant foods such as cereals, beans, nuts and seeds are sensitive to inhibiting and enhancing factors hence the recommendation to drink tea and coffee between main meals and including fruit and vegetables, which contain vitamin C, with every meal to enhance iron uptake. Including meat with a meal also enhances the iron uptake from the vegetables by up to four times.
The symposium titled, ‘Iron: The Issue of deficiency in a land of plenty’ was held in association with the University of Auckland Food and Health Programme, as part of Iron Awareness Week.
For more information, visit www.ironweek.co.nz #IronWeekNZ
Image / FreeDigitalPhotos.net – Stuart Miles