What is iron and what does it do for our bodies

Iron is one of two minerals that we need in larger amounts than others, the other is calcium. Iron deficiency is relatively common, particularly in menstruating women, but also in relation to other lifestyle, health and dietary factors.

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What does iron do?

Iron’s main job is to help make haemoglobin, which carries oxygen around the body in red blood cells. It’s also used for making certain proteins and enzymes. Iron deficiency means red blood cells don’t carry as much oxygen, it makes us feel more tired and breathless, maybe even getting palpitations and looking paler than normal.

Where do we get iron from in the diet?

We get iron primarily from meat, which is called ‘haem iron’ and secondarily from plant sources, ‘non-haem’.

Our bodies are primed to use haem iron better than non-haem. However there’s also a theory that the longer someone is vegetarian the better the body gets at using non-haem iron. Eating meat is certainly no guarantee of iron sufficiency and it’s not a given that vegetarianism means deficiency.

Overall quality of the diet and attention to nutrition is key in everyone.

Supplementing iron

The body doesn’t automatically get rid of excess iron. Taking supplements without a qualified diagnosis of deficiency is a dangerous game and can result in serious symptoms of iron overload. In fact there is a condition called haemochromatosis which means people absorb too much iron. Haemochromatosis damages joints, the pancreas and creates inflammation as well as making diabetes more likely.

Iron absorption

Several dietary factors can reduce absorption of iron, including:

  • drinking tea with food,
  • taking calcium,
  • eating way too much fibre.

However, consuming vitamin-C -rich foods with iron-rich ones helps with iron absorption. That’s why we often include fruit with iron-rich foods at breakfast time on the eatnaturally plan. Similarly, supplement types can affect how well the iron is absorbed depending on a number of factors including the other ingredients that make up the supplement.


There’s also something called pseudoanaemia or ‘athlete’s anaemia’ which heavy exercisers are prone to and that’s where blood plasma increases as a result of training and so dilutes the haemoglobin concentration – but there’s still enough haemoglobin!

Get all the iron your body needs with a Nuush nutrition plan

With the Nutrition for Everyone plan you get a gorgeous meal plan every week with simple healthy eating options, packed with all the nutrients your body needs. We include plenty of variety – the plan includes options meat, veggie, or veggie-fish – focusing on natural foods and great nutrition.

We help you to eat and live more intuitively for a happy, healthy life.

Avoid the myths and fads

Get the Nutrition for Everyone plan and reset how you eat for life without have to overthink the minutiae of healthy eating.

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Thank you for reading this article. Please note that while we share a lot of awesome information and research you should be aware our articles are strictly for informational purposes and do not constitute medical advice intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any disease.

Cover photo by Divily from Pixabay.