Anaemia: my doctor says I need more iron

When someone has anaemia, their body is not able to transport enough oxygen around in their blood.  This can make them feel tired and irritable, sensitive to the cold, and they will have pale skin. The most common kind of anaemia in Australia is iron deficiency anaemia, which is caused from not having enough iron-rich foods, or our bodies not using it properly.

Those most at risk include:

  • Women due to monthly menstrual loss of blood
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Children during rapid growth – especially premature or low birth weight babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers and teenagers
  • Vegetarians, particularly those who don’t eat any animal foods, as the iron in animal foods is more easily absorbed by the body than iron from plant foods
  • Athletes due to the extra stress placed on their bodies

Some fad diets or detox diets cut out whole foods without replacing them with other nutritious foods. Following diets like this for a long time can put you at risk of iron deficiency anaemia too, as you may be missing out on iron-rich foods.

Healthy eating to prevent anaemia

To prevent anaemia, it is important to eat a well-balanced diet that includes iron-rich foods. Iron-rich foods include:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dried beans and lentils
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Wholegrain breads and cereals.

You can boost the way your body absorbs iron from plant foods by eating food rich in vitamin C during the same meal. Try citrus fruits, red capsicum or kiwi fruit. Eating meat, fish or chicken can also increase absorption of iron in plant foods when eaten at the same time.

Drinks like tea, coffee, and soft drinks can reduce the way your body absorbs iron from plant foods.  If you choose to drink these, it’s best to have them between meals so you can get the most out of your iron-rich foods.

An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) can help you to meet your individual needs for iron and other nutrients, to keep you feeling your best.