We all want to feel good and energised, all day every day. That feeling of being able to give your best, to get through the day — it makes us value our strength and bodies. And well, throughout our busy lives, it’s easy to mistake feeling tired with having a lack of sleep or work stress. You feel like you could sleep for hours on end.
While this might all sound familiar and you’d think it’s just a normal feeling, there could be more to it — like being low on iron without even knowing it.
Symptoms of iron deficiency
How do we know if we’re iron deficient? Well, there are a few things to look out for. Ernie Syafika binti Zamri, Consultant at Mega Lifesciences tells us that unusual tiredness, pale skin, irregular heartbeat or shortness of breath are some of the symptoms and signs that you might need an iron boost. To be really sure, visiting your nearest healthcare provider like hospitals, clinics or pharmacies to do a full blood count is your best bet. This test will not only tell you your cholesterol or sugar level, it’ll also indicate your haemoglobin level.
Sara Khong Cheng Kuan, a cookbook writer and food consultant experienced being iron deficient when she was a teenager. “I was feeling very weak and my hair started falling,” she recalls the experience. “I went to the doctor and was told that I was iron deficient. He prescribed some iron pills and I got much better.”
Function of iron
Women are a little more likely to be iron deficient compared to men, because of our monthly menstrual cycles causing us to lose blood. It’s possible for us gals to get anemia because of this, too. “Iron is a vital component for our haemoglobin, the protein which carries oxygen in our red blood cells. This protein will help to transport oxygen from our lungs to other parts of the body. That’s the main function of iron,” Ernie explains. So really, iron is essential for our well-being.
It’s definitely possible to get sufficient iron from our regular diet if we’re really good about it like following the recommended food pyramid, for instance. But with our day-to-day responsibilities and lifestyle, we need to make an effort like cooking at home or making healthy food choices when we’re eating out.
Taking iron rich meals is important when you’re iron deficient or just looking to maintain sufficient iron intake. Ernie says the key here is to have iron rich food with vitamin C as it’ll “enhance the absorption rate of iron.” Also, avoid things like milk, tea and coffee because these will block the absorption of iron. So, that means cutting down on your usual coffee runs throughout the day.
Sara also suggests making a red dates tonic. Her recipe? “Just put dates and water in a pot and boil. You can do it in a pot, slow cooker, or pressure cooker.”
When eating out…
Ernie advises to include chicken, meat, green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, and fruits such as dates, prunes and raisins in our diets to keep our iron intake up. Nuts and legumes like cashew nuts, soybean and chickpeas are also great sources of iron.
Sara makes it a point to add iron rich ingredients into the food she orders. “I have the habit of ordering char koay teow with extra kerang, stir-fried spinach, and I always order orange juice which helps in iron absorption.” Some other examples she gave is to order seaweed miso soup at Japanese restaurants, beef steak or chicken liver at yakitori joints if you’re into it.
The reality is, some of us just aren’t great at keeping track of our nutrient intake in our daily lives or tend to be really inconsistent with it. Well, that’s where iron supplements come in and girls can start taking them as early as when they start puberty, Ernie says. She recommends getting a consultation from your doctor or healthcare professional before taking regular supplements.
When choosing an iron supplement, Ernie says we need to look out for one that contains high elemental iron, and that refers to the amount of iron that’s ready to be absorbed in the body. A good iron supplement should also help to reduce the side effects of taking them like nausea and vomiting.