Low iron intakes are surprisingly common in the UK and research shows that 89% of young females have a daily intake of iron which is less than the RNI of 14.8mg. This reflects the move towards vegetarian diets and declining intakes of red meat. If you get too little iron in your diet or lose too much through heavy menstrual periods, stomach bleeding (commonly caused by arthritis drugs) or cancer, your body draws on its iron reserve. Initially there are no symptoms, but as iron supply dwindles, so does your body's ability to produce healthy red blood cells. The result is iron-deficiency anaemia, marked by weakness, fatigue, paleness, breathlessness, palpitations and increased susceptibility to infection.
Iron is best absorbed when taken on an empty stomach. However, if iron upsets your stomach, consume with meals, preferably with a small amount of meat and a food or drink rich in vitamin C, such as broccoli or orange juice, to help boost the amount of iron your body absorbs. Iron-rich foods include beef, lamb, liver, clams, oysters and mussels. Vegetarians can obtain adequate amounts of iron from beans and peas, leafy green vegetables, dried fruits, such as apricots and raisins, and fortified breakfast cereals. Brewer's yeast, kelp, molasses and wheat bran are also good sources.