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Iron deficiency

Iron deficiency

April has been the busiest month I’ve had in a very long time! I’ve been to several weddings and away from home for three weeks, so any control over my diet went out the window.

If I am not eating from the right food groups I tend to lack energy and feel fatigued and lethargic. If I spend more than a few days eating less than ideal foods, my body doesn’t perform how I need it to. I need to get back on track to ensure my body is in shape to cope with shift work as a midwife.

One very important aspect of my diet is my iron intake. I eat a largely plant-based diet; therefore my haem-iron intake (animal sourced) is quite often low. I eat very little red meat so I have to work hard to ensure that my diet is abundant in alternative non-haem-iron sources.

Iron Deficiency Anaemia (IDA) occurs when our bodies are deficient in the mineral iron (which is necessary in the production of red blood cells), causing red blood cell levels in our bodies to become depleted. IDA can be caused my multiple factors including diet, physiological demands and disease.

Menstruating and pregnant women have a higher risk of developing IDA due to regular blood loss (particularly with heavy periods) and increased physiological demand for iron during pregnancy. Signs and symptoms of IDA include fatigue, breathlessness, pale skin, frequent infections, brittle nails, dizziness and fast heartbeat. It is always important that these symptoms are discussed with your healthcare provider.

For meat eaters, lean red meat such as lamb, beef and venison is a great source of iron. In order to increase iron intake, non-meat eaters (or anyone, for that matter) can include iron-rich foods in their diet, such as lentils, beans, seeds, nuts, dark-green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, soya bean products, potatoes, oatmeal, strawberries, spinach and cacao.

I find that including an iron-rich smoothie as part of my regular diet is a really good way to boost my daily iron intake, particularly when I don’t feel like eating meat.

Iron-boosting cacao berry smoothie

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen strawberries
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup baby spinach or kale
  • 2 tabelspoons cacao
  • 2 medjool dates

Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender and process until smooth. Serve immediately.


Cacao vs cocoa

If you are committed to a raw diet and can afford it, raw cacao is a nice ingredient. But don’t feel you need it to be healthy. Regular cocoa is just fine, too, and there’s little difference, health-wise – especially if you’re only using small amounts. Choosing a non-Dutch cocoa powder will mean you’re getting a less processed product. For more, refer to the June issue of Healthy Food Guide.

Katie Hawkey works as a midwife, based in Auckland. In her spare time (though not much of it!) Katie enjoys creating new recipes, which she adds to her online blog, Facebook and Instagram. In 2011 Katie was diagnosed with endometriosis, which had been causing severe menstrual issues for her since the age of 13. It is because of both personal and professional reasons that Katie’s main interests lie with food in relation to women’s health. See Katie’s website Katie in the Kitchen, or follow her on Instagram: katieinthekitchen or Facebook. If you are looking for more information on endometriosis, check out Endometriois NZ.

First published: Apr 2015

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