Iron may also play a vital role in concentration levels and for this reason can be referred to as a 'brain food'.
Iron is required for the formation of haemoglobin in red blood cells which transport oxygen around the body. A lack of iron leads to low iron stores in the body and eventually to iron deficiency anaemia. Loss of blood due to injury or large menstrual losses increase iron requirements. Women and teenage girls in particular, need to ensure their diet supplies enough iron.
Anaemia affects our capacity to work, depresses the immune system and impairs learning ability. It is therefore very important to ensure adequate levels of iron in the diet.
Iron is found in plant and animal sources. Iron from animal sources (haem iron) is better absorbed than iron from plant sources (non-haem iron). Absorption of non-haem iron is affected by various factors in food. Phytate (in cereals and pulses), fibre, tannins (in tea and coffee) and calcium can bind non-haem iron, which reduces absorption. Vitamin C, present in fruit and vegetables, aids the absorption of this kind of iron. Bread and many breakfast cereals are fortified with iron in the UK, and make a valuable contribution to iron intake. In order to maximise iron absorption drink a glass of orange juice with your breakfast cereal in the morning.
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