We need iron to produce haemoglobin in our blood, which carries oxygen around our bodies. Our immune system also needs iron to work well.
Source: Iron | NRV
There are two types of iron in food: haem iron (absorbed very well) and non-haem iron (not absorbed very well). Meat, poultry, and seafood contain both haem iron and non-haem iron. Plant foods, such as vegetables, cereals, beans, and lentils, contain only non-haem iron so the iron in these foods is not absorbed as well by the body.
Low levels of blood haemoglobin are relatively common, particularly among those needing the most iron. Too little iron in the blood can lead to paleness, tiredness, and lethargy, making it harder to concentrate, and affecting our performance at school or work. Resistance to illness, such as infections, coughs, and colds, is also weaker.
Low blood levels can be caused by:
Having too much iron in the blood is also possible, but much less common. It can be caused by taking iron supplements when not needed, a high alcohol intake, hepatitis, or haemochromatosis (a condition where a person’s body absorbs too much iron).
If you are concerned about your blood levels of iron e.g. have heavy periods, are tired, weak, lightheaded, or look pale, talk to your doctor about having a blood test. Iron supplements should only be taken under medical supervision, as unsupervised use of iron supplements can reduce the absorption of other essential nutrients, such as zinc and calcium.
National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia) and Ministry of Health (New Zealand) (2014) Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand: Iron.
Last reviewed: 25/07/2022
Last modified: July 25, 2022