Survey Shows Women Risk Iron Efficiency

Drinking red wine with a meal, going for a run before you eat or eating cheese afterwards are some of the ways people mistakenly think they can boost the iron in their diet, according to a new survey by online health resource,

The survey also found that more than half of women surveyed believe that spinach is the best source of iron. In fact, you would need to eat a large amount of spinach to get the same amount of iron as there is in a 4oz sirloin steak.

The over 65s were the least informed of any age group, with 53 per cent thinking that drinking red wine was a good thing! Three quarters of the women surveyed did not know what the recommended daily amount of iron is (14mg) and 90 per cent did not know the difference between haem and non haem iron.

Leading nutritionist Juliette Kellow said the results were alarming, given the high number of women who are likely to be iron deficient.

“Currently around 40 per cent of women aged 19 to 34 years have iron intakes below the minimum amount needed to stay healthy and so are at risk of iron-deficiency anaemia. Meanwhile, 93 per cent of 16 to 18 year olds consume less than the recommended intake of iron,” Juliette said.

“Teenage girls and pre-menopausal women are at a greater risk of suffering with iron deficiency anaemia as they have higher nutritional needs for iron than men and post-menopausal women due to losses during menstruation. Fortunately, this condition can easily be prevented in most people through eating a healthy, balanced diet that contains plenty of iron-rich foods”.

“It is encouraging that young women aged 16-24 are best informed about the risk of iron deficiency. Surprisingly, one in five knew iron was essential for healthy hair and nails,” Juliette said.

“It’s a pity though that women don’t know the difference between haem and non haem iron. Haem iron, found in red meat, fish and poultry is more easily absorbed by the body, whereas non haem iron, found in fruit, vegetables and cereals, is less well absorbed. A simple way to boost iron intake from plant foods is to include a vitamin C-rich food at the same meal, such as a glass of orange juice.”

Another area of confusion was around the benefits of iron for pregnant women. 80 per cent did not realise that iron deficiency could lead to premature birth; only 31 per cent knew that iron deficiency could result in a low birth weight and even fewer (27 per cent) acknowledged that recovery after birth may be prolonged due to iron deficiency.

Juliette Kellow said: “UK women need to know more about where and how to improve their iron intake and absorption as it’s so important for overall health.”

Top tips for boosting your iron intake:

  • Use extra-lean mince to make lasagne, spaghetti Bolognese, meatballs, cottage pie and homemade burgers. A dinner of spaghetti Bolognese with whole-wheat pasta will give you an impressive 6.6mg iron - that’s 47 percent of the recommended daily intake. A burger in a wholemeal bap with salad provides 5.4mg of iron, while a plate of cottage pie contains 3.7mg iron.
  • Go for red meat - the darker the flesh, the higher the iron content. This means beef contains more iron than pork, which contains more than salmon or chicken.
  • Start your day with a bowl of branflakes and semi-skimmed milk. Most are fortified with iron so that a standard bowl provides 6mg of iron. This iron isn’t as well absorbed as the iron in meat so add a vitamin C-rich fruit such as strawberries, kiwi or a glass of fruit juice to help the body absorb this iron.
  • Swap a bowl of tomato soup with a white roll for a bowl of lentil soup with a wholemeal roll and more than double the iron content - your new lunch will provide 5.4mg iron thanks mainly to the lentils.

For more tips to boost your iron intake visit

Survey carried out by Pollab Limited, 29th January - 1st February 2010, amongst a demographically representative sample of UK women. Total sample size: 1,073 women aged 18+.