The red meat & iron deficiency debate

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How important is eating red meat when it comes to the question of iron deficiency?

Iron deficiency or anemia could be the cause behind those endless tired feelings and lack of concentration. But with celebs like Anne Hathaway and Natalie Portman flying the vegan flag, red meat, usually a principle source of iron, has been getting a bad press.

Dr Carrie Ruxton, and award-winning dietitian and member of the Meat Advisory Panel argues that avoiding red meat could be to blame for a lack of iron and makes a case for including regular lean meat meals in your diet...

What you should know about iron deficiency
'Low iron levels affect people in different ways. Around one in ten women and girls are iron deficient (known as 'anaemia') while up to three in ten have low iron stores, which means that they are more susceptible to anaemia.

Low iron levels are caused by increased needs, for example due to heavy periods or pregnancy, or a lack of iron in the diet. People most likely to experience low iron levels include teenage girls, women of childbearing age, vegans and vegetarians.'

What are the symptoms?
'Iron is a vital nutrient that contributes to normal mental function and reduces tiredness. It is also essential for the formation of haemoglobin which is present in red blood cells and has the key role of transporting oxygen around the body, including the brain.

If iron levels are low, less oxygen circulates in the blood. This can cause fatigue, poor memory and concentration, lethargy, shortened attention span, and reduced work performance.

Symptoms of anaemia include headaches, insomnia, split nails, cold hands and feet, and restless legs. Iron also plays a vital role in the immune system so low levels can make you more susceptible to colds and other infections.'

How can diet help?
'Eating lean red meat is a great way to get iron into your diet. It's also a rich source of high quality protein and other essential nutrients that are needed during the reproductive years.

Red meat, especially beef and lamb, are viewed by experts as the best sources of dietary iron because they contain a special type, called 'haem iron', which is well absorbed by the body. In fact, the iron found in red meat is three times better absorbed than the so-called 'non haem' iron found in plant foods, such as cereals, beans, and green vegetables, such as spinach.

When selecting red meat, it's important to choose the leanest types as the fat and calorie content will be relatively low. Keep processed meats, such as bacon, ham and pies, for occasional treats as they are higher in salt. Experts suggest we can eat meat 4-5 times a week as part of a balanced diet.'

For more information about the role of meat in your diet, visit

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