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How do you recognise an iron deficiency and what are the consequences?

Stefan Wateler
Stefan Wateler

Iron is a mineral in your body and is an important part of haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is found in the red blood cells and these red blood cells in turn ensure that oxygen is transported from the lungs to the rest of your body. Having enough iron minerals in your body is thus essential to feeling fit and healthy.

Iron occurs in the human body in two forms: as heme iron or non-heme iron. Heme iron is only found in animal products, while non-heme iron is found in both animal and plant products such as fruits and vegetables. 

How do you recognise an iron deficiency? 

People with iron deficiency often feel tired, suffer from pale skin and can be easily out of breath(1). Therefore, should you suffer from these symptoms, it could indicate an iron deficiency. Dizziness, headaches or a sweaty feeling could also indicate iron deficiency (2). Should you want to be sure if you are iron deficient, you could have your doctor measure it with a blood test. 

Which target groups are more likely to be iron deficient? 

In general, iron deficiency occurs mainly in vegetarians. Meat is a major source of heme iron and people who do not eat meat therefore do not get this form of iron. Because meat contains relatively more iron than plant products, vegetarians are more likely to develop iron deficiencies in their bodies. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are also more likely to experience iron deficiency in their bodies. This is because the body in this situation has a higher iron requirement than someone who is not pregnant or breastfeeding. 

How do you get enough iron? 

To get enough iron, you can eat meat or fish, but vegetables like broccoli, spinach or gherkins also contain relatively high amounts of iron. If you don't eat meat, you could also choose eggs as an alternative source of iron. 

Tip: your body's absorption of iron is enhanced by simultaneously consuming foods high in vitamin C. Think fresh fruit or orange juice. This makes iron better absorbed by your body, which can prevent you from building up an iron deficiency in your body.