Iron deficiency: what are the symptoms of anaemia and which are the best iron rich foods to eat?

Posted by for Strength

These are the symptoms of iron deficiency, explained. 

We are complex beings. In order for our bodies to run properly with all of the processes and systems working, they require a whole host of vitamins, minerals and nutrients in the right doses.

One of those is iron, which is an essential element that supports in a wide variety of metabolic processes including keeping your energy levels normal and improving cognitive function. One of irons main functions is to make red blood cells which help transport oxygen around the body. 

Generally, our bodies are quite good at regulating iron levels, and studies show that iron is highly conserved and not readily lost from the body. However, having periods is one of the most common causes of iron deficiency, as blood loss leads to a loss in iron rich red blood cells: around 14% of people who menstruate are thought to suffer with anemia related to low iron levels, according to the National Institute for Healthcare Excellence. 

What are the signs of low iron levels? 

“Early signs of iron deficiency are shortness of breath and chronic tiredness,” explains Dr Carrie Ruxton from the Health and Food Supplements Service. “Longer term, if not treated, iron deficiency can impact on cognitive function and immune function.”

The NHS also flags that paleness could be a sign of iron deficiency.

There’s no way you can know if you’re deficient in iron without a test, so if you’re worried about your iron levels it’s best to speak with your GP. 

Leafy greens and pulses are high in iron

How to improve iron levels

Despite that fact that those who menstruate are more at risk of iron deficiency, more than a quarter of women aged 19 to 64 years have iron intakes below the recommended intake. Currently, that stands at 14.8mg a day for women aged 19 to 50, and 8.7mg a man over 18 needs. 

However, that doesn’t mean you need to take supplements. It is possible to get your daily intake from your diet alone if you eat the right foods. 

Some high iron foods include: 

  • Red meat (especially liver/kidneys)
  • Fortified breakfast cereals 
  • Eggs
  • Green leafy vegetables 
  • Beans and pulses 

What does that look like in your everyday? “In order to hit your intake, I would start my day with a fortified breakfast cereal alongside a glass of 100% orange juice which is high in vitamin C to helps iron absorption,” explains Dr Ruxton. “I would suggest adding in red meat or iron-rich vegetarian alternatives such as lentils, beans, pulses, and including leafy greens such as kale, broccoli and cabbage with most meals. Try snacking on dried apricots too.”

Something to think about adding to your next shopping list. 

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).