Recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) results show that 1 in 4 UK women have a low intake of iron.
Symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia, caused by a lack of iron, can include tiredness and lack of energy, shortness of breath and pale skin.
If you have symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia, see your GP who can confirm if you are anaemic with a blood test.
*Below the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake (LRNI) – the amount that is enough to meet the needs of only a small proportion of the population (2.5%). Intakes below the LRNI are inadequate for most individuals.
Source: National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS), carried out on behalf of Public Health England and the Food Standards Agency, which provides the only source of nationally representative UK data designed to assess the diet, nutrient intake and nutritional status of the general UK population aged 1.5 years and over.
Results are used by the Government to monitor progress towards diet and nutrition objectives and develop policy.
of 11–18-year-old girls have low intakes of iron
Low iron status: are you more at risk?
Women who have heavy periods, pregnant women and athletes, as well as those on some restricted diets, may need to be especially aware of their iron intake. For example, pregnancy can be a common cause of iron deficiency anaemia.
Red meat, like beef and lamb, contains haem iron, the most easily absorbed form of iron, and can be an important source, along with other iron-rich foods.
Getting more from your food
A balanced plate is a beautiful thing. We should be eating a variety of different foods, to help us get the wide range of nutrients that our bodies need.
But did you know: eating certain foods together may help your body to absorb iron?
Non-haem iron – the kind of iron you find in plant based foods like green leafy vegetables, beans and bread – is harder for the body to absorb than haem iron – the kind you find in red meat.
Vitamin C, present in fruit and vegetables, can help the absorption of non-haem iron when eaten at the same time as red meat, so including some British beef or lamb in a balanced meal can help your body absorb more iron.
Remember: red meat has higher levels of iron than white meat.
Why is iron so important?
Iron* helps the body do all sorts of things.
Not only does it contribute to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue, it also:
Helps your immune system work normally
Supports normal cognitive function
Helps with the normal learning and cognitive development in children
Contributes to oxygen transport in the body
Helps with normal energy production in the body
Supports the formation of red blood cells
Has a role in the process of cell division
*Beef is a source of iron.
Top tips for a healthy diet
Be careful when making changes to your diet
If you’re making big changes, don’t cut out whole food groups, and make sure you include iron-rich foods in your diet.
Make sure you eat a good variety of foods from the main food groups to help get the nutrients your body needs, such as vitamins and minerals.
Be aware of mixed messages
There are a lot of conflicting nutrition messages in the media and you may hear different advice from family, friends or celebrities. What works for them may not necessarily work for you and making big changes to your diet can mean you miss out on essential nutrients. There is not a 'one size fits all' approach to eating a healthy, balanced diet, but it’s important that the eating pattern you adopt is based on scientific evidence.
Opinion - Food Advisory Board
There are a lot of mixed messages in the media around food and nutrition meaning it’s easy to get confused. That’s why we’ve started the We Eat Balanced campaign, to provide an evidence-based antidote to the misinformation.
We know that the food choices we make are integral to our health and wellbeing, and a balanced diet is one that offers variety, nourishment and enjoyment whilst remaining in harmony with the environment.
Here in the UK we have a balanced approach to farming, and we want to shine a light on that too. Our farmers are united in their ambition to bring high quality, naturally nutrient rich produce to people, and are continuously driving towards a carbon neutral food industry with high welfare standards at its heart.