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Getting the right amount of iron in the diet is important for health.
If the body’s store of iron is low and there is too little iron in the diet to form new red blood cells, the symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia will start to develop. Iron deficiency anaemia can make people feel tired, irritable and less able to concentrate. In children, it can affect behaviour and development. Iron deficiency anaemia is probably the most common nutritional deficiency in the world – it is estimated that at least 500 million people are affected.
Many foods contain iron, and eating a wide range of foods can help most people meet their needs for this nutrient. Iron from animal sources (haem iron) is better absorbed than iron from plant sources (non-haem iron). About 15% of iron in diets containing meat or fish is absorbed. Absorption of non-haem iron is affected by various factors in food.
Phytates (in cereals and pulses), fibre, tannins (in tea and coffee) and calcium can bind non-haem iron, which reduces absorption. Vitamin C increases absorption of non-haem iron. This means having food and drinks which contain vitamin C with meals, eg vegetables, salad, orange juice, will increase iron absorption, but tea and coffee with meals will reduce absorption. Absorption of non-haem iron is also increased by meat.
SOURCE: British Nutrition Foundation
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