Iron Deficiency Anaemia (IDA) is a major public health issue majorly seen among women of reproductive age. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) of 2015-16, 53% of women in India have anaemia and even iron and folic acid supplementation programs have failed to curb this issue. Hence it is important to consume foods rich in iron and commercially available iron-fortified foods to reduce the risk of anaemia.

Nutritional Value Of Iron

Physiological State That Requires IronUses Of Iron
Pregnancy and lactationIron is required for RBC production, growth and development of the fetus. 
Professionals That Should Focus On Iron
Athletes (Eg: Marathon runners)For better athletic performance, immunity and better transport of oxygen to tissues, iron would be needed.
Body Parts That Require Iron
MusclesIron helps provide oxygen to muscles. This helps prevent muscular fatigue.
BrainIron helps improve cognition, attention and problem-solving skills.
Immune systemIron helps stimulate T-cells and also are a part of a variety of enzymatic reactions. 
Skin, hair and nailsEach of these body parts requires iron for development of glow, lustre and maintenance respectively
Other tissuesOxygen transport performed by haemoglobin requires iron. This oxygen is required by other major tissues of our body.

Why Is Iron Required?

It is important to know why Iron is so crucial for body functioning before looking into Iron deficiency.

1. Transports Oxygen From Lungs To Various Tissues

This is one of the major functions of iron. Haemoglobin (Hb) is a protein found in the RBCs (Red Blood Cells) which is involved in the transport of oxygen. Iron never exists in a free state. It either binds itself to protein or ligands. For oxygen transport, oxygen binds itself to iron present within haemoglobin and this leads to the formation of Oxyhaemoglobin. Oxygen carried through haemoglobin is utilized in the cells of the tissues.

The above similar step occurs in a protein found in muscles known as Myoglobin. Myoglobin binds to iron present in a heme group. Myoglobin acts as a storage site for oxygen which is used mainly during situations where there can be oxygen deficiency (example – high altitude, underwater, heavy exercise).

2. Certain Enzymes Require Iron

Iron is required as a coenzyme for various enzymatic reactions. Oxidative phosphorylation is one such pathway that requires iron. This pathway is required for the utilization of nutrients to energy.

3. Helps Promote Immunity

Certain immune cells require iron for their growth. For example, T cells require Iron for many metabolic reactions. Iron is also involved in DNA replication and repair as well.

4. Antimicrobial Property

Hemoproteins like lactoperoxidase present in tears, milk or saliva have antimicrobial properties.

5. Cognitive Development

Iron is involved in learning, cognition, memory, maintenance of attention span and problem-solving. Hence it is important to have sufficient iron levels for better productivity in school or workplaces.

6. Iron Is Required For Better Skin, Nails And Hair

Your hair, skin and nails require iron for their better health. A significant indicator of iron deficiency in nails would be Koilonychia (spoon-shaped nails). Lack of iron also leads to pale skin. Dry and brittle hair can be another sign of iron deficiency too.

Symptoms Of Iron Deficiency Anaemia (IDA)

Some of the symptoms of iron deficiency experienced are given below.

  1. Extreme tiredness as well as fatigue.
  2. Inability to perform activities that demand excess oxygen (eg: climbing stairs, exercise).
  3. Tachycardia (increased heart rate) and palpitations
  4. Paleness of skin, nails and lower eyelids 
  5. Spoon shaped nails/ brittle nails and dry/ brittle hair
  6. Cold hands/ feet
  7. Increased occurrence of infections

Sources Of Iron

Now that you know how important iron is for your body, let’s look at the sources of iron.

Plant Sources: Green leafy vegetables, Soya, Whole grains, Whole pulses, Peas (especially Chickpeas), Beans (especially Red Kidney Beans), Nuts and seeds (especially Flax seeds), Strawberries, Watermelon, Olives and Prunes.

Animal Sources: Beef, Pork, Liver, Chicken, Turkey, Lamb, Eggs, Shrimps, Oysters, Fishes (especially Sardines, Tuna and Mackerel).

Is Red Meat A Good Source Of Iron For Anaemics?

Red meat is a good source of iron especially for non-vegetarians who are deficient in iron. A 100g of red meat can meet up to 12% of your daily iron requirements. However red meat can only be a short-term solution. This is because red meat is high in Saturated Fatty Acids (SFA) and cholesterol. Its consumption can also increase your risks to certain types of cancer like colorectal, pancreatic or breast cancer. Excess red meat consumption has also been linked to heart diseases, strokes and diabetes. Hence the bottom line is to consume red meat in moderation and simultaneously consume other animal or plant foods rich in iron.

Iron-Rich Recipes

Now that you know the importance of iron and how to incorporate them in your diet, let us look at some iron-rich recipes.

1. Bajra Spinach Khichdi

This delicious meal can be consumed for lunch or dinner. It is rich in iron, calcium and fibre.

Cooking time: 25-30 mins

Nutritional values (1 serving approx)

Energy: 240 kcals

Carbohydrates: 32 gms

Protein: 10 gms

Fat: 4.5 gms

Calcium: 55 mg

Iron: 4 mg

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cup of bajra
  • ½ cup of moong dal
  • 1 cup of spinach (chopped finely)
  • 2 tsp jeera
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp asafoetida (hing)
  • 2-3 tsp ghee
  • Salt as required
  • Oil as required

Method:

  1. Soak bajra in water for around 7-8 hours. Drain the water. 
  2. Wash moong dal thoroughly and keep it aside.
  3. Heat ghee in a pressure cooker and add bajra, moong dal, salt along with the required amount of water and cook for 4-5 whistles.
  4. In another pan, heat oil and add jeera. Wait till it crackles. Now add Spinach along with turmeric powder, hing and chilli powder. Add salt as well. Saute well for a few minutes.
  5. Now add the cooked bajra onto the pan and mix well. Cook for a few minutes. Serve hot with raita.

2. Moong Dal Radish Chillas

This recipe is full of iron, calcium, fibre and protein. It can be consumed as a snack or for breakfast. You can also carry it in your tiffin.

Cooking time: 25-30 mins

Nutritional values (1 serving approx)

Energy: 135 kcals

Carbohydrates: 20 gms

Protein: 10 gms

Fat: 4 gms

Calcium: 64 mg

Iron: 2 mg

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup moong dal
  • 1 ½ cup radish leaves (finely chopped)
  • 2 tsp chilli powder
  • 2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tbsp besan
  • 1 tbsp curd
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds (til)
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil as required

Method:

  1. Soak moong overnight.
  2. Blenderize the moong along with water in a blender.
  3. Add moong along with chopped radish leaves, chilli powder, turmeric powder, besan, hing, curd, sesame seeds and salt in a bowl. Mix well and make a batter.
  4. In a pan, grease it using a brush. Pour the batter using a ladle onto the pan and spread it evenly. 
  5. Cook till crisp and flip over so the other side of the chilla cooks as well.
  6. Serve hot with raita.

3. Shepu Idlis

This is a nutritious as well as an iron-rich recipe that can be consumed for breakfast and snacks.

Cooking time: 25-30 mins

Nutritional values (1 serving approx)

Energy: 93 kcals

Carbohydrates: 20 gms

Protein: 2 gms

Fat: 2 gms

Calcium: 6 mg

Iron: 1.7 mg

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup of shepu (finely chopped)
  • 1 cup of rice
  • ½ cup of grated coconut
  • 3 tbsp curd
  • Salt as required
  • Oil for greasing

Method:

  1. In a bowl, add shepu, rice, grated coconut, curd, salt and water. Mix well. Make a batter. Add little water if required.
  2. In a steamer, heat water. Grease the idli moulds with oil using a brush. Pour the batter into the moulds.
  3. Steam for 15-20 mins.
  4. Serve with coconut chutney/sambar.

Key Takeaways

  1. Heme iron is better absorbed than non-heme iron. Heme iron is found in non-vegetarian foods. So if you are a non-vegetarian do consume animal foods for obtaining iron.
  2. If you are a vegetarian, include twice as much as plant foods (rich in iron) in your diet to get enough iron.
  3. Foods rich in vitamin C increases the absorption of iron.
  4. Avoid combining foods containing phytates along with iron-rich foods as they reduce iron absorption. Whole grains, legumes, soy products and nuts contain phytates.
  5. Foods rich in calcium can hinder the absorption of iron.
  6. Tannins in tea and coffee can block iron absorption. Hence avoid consuming iron-rich foods with tea/ coffee.
  7. Excess iron intake (through supplements or intravenous methods) can lead to toxicity which can increase risks of heart or liver damage.
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