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Tired all the time?

Our experts have the lowdown on whether a lack of iron in your diet could be a factor

Q. I always seem to feel exhausted. I rarely eat red meat – could I be anaemic?

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The pharmacist

A. Liz McPherson, Boots pharmacist, says:

‘The government’s latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey has found that 48% of girls aged 11-18 and 27% of women from 19-64 have iron levels below the lower reference nutrient intake. This means that the majority of these groups aren’t getting the amount they need.

 

Iron helps our bodies produce red blood cells, which store and carry oxygen. A lack of red blood cells means your organs don’t get as much oxygen as they usually would. This can make you feel tired and lead to hair loss and mood swings; in more serious cases it can result in iron-deficiency anaemia. If you have symptoms such as a lack of energy, shortness of breath, heart palpitations or paler skin, see your GP, who should be able to diagnose the condition from a blood test.

 

It’s rare for iron-deficiency anaemia to be caused solely by a lack of iron in your diet. In women of reproductive age, heavy periods are the most common culprit (indications include needing an unusually high number of tampons/pads, and “flooding” through to clothes or bedding). Pregnancy can also lead to anaemia, as you need extra iron for the baby. A lack of dietary iron, however, does mean you’re more at risk.’

The diet expert

A. Vicky Pennington, Boots nutritionist says:

‘From the popularity of veggie and vegan Instagrammers to the rise of “Veganuary”, eating less meat – or cutting it out – is trendy. But whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, flexitarian or full-blown meat eater, you need to keep an eye on your dietary iron intake. Women aged 19-50 should have around 14.8mg a day to help ensure their stores are at a healthy level. To put this in context, a 100g serving of raw spinach has 0.8mg of iron, while a 100g portion of lean steak has 1.9mg. If you’re veggie, eat lots of dark-green leafy veg such as watercress and curly kale; cereals and bread with extra iron (the label will state “fortified with iron”); pulses (beans, peas and lentils); tofu; dried apricots, prunes and raisins; and, if you’re not a vegan, eggs. For meat eaters, red meat is a good source, but you can also get iron from fish and white meat such as chicken.

 

A word of caution: the Department of Health advises us to consume no more than 70g of red or processed meat a day, as eating a lot may increase your bowel cancer risk. A 70g portion is roughly the size of a deck of cards.’

Look out for 3 for 2 offers** on vitamins and supplements* in store.

*Food supplements don’t replace a balanced and varied diet. **The cheapest item is free.

 

Compiled by Charlotte Grant-West Photography Getty Images

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