Why is iron important to include in your pregnancy diet? Read why iron is essential for your healthy pregnancy and what iron-rich foods you need to eat
Iron is an essential part of any diet (and especially your pregnancy diet!). Your body needs iron to make haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen around your body. It’s also an important component of myoglobin (a protein that helps supply oxygen to your muscles) collagen (which is important for healthy bones and cartilage) and it helps maintain your healthy immune system.
Iron is even more essential for healthy pregnancy nutrition and for breast feeding mums. During pregnancy the amount of blood in your body increases by almost 50% so your need for iron goes up accordingly. You also need extra iron to meet the needs of your developing baby and placenta, especially in the second and third trimesters.
Insufficient iron is likely to make you feel more tired, less energetic, short of breath and irritable. If low iron levels continue you might start experiencing headaches and suffer from a lowered immune resistance. Iron deficiency anaemia is the most common type of anaemia in pregnancy and has an increased risk of premature birth, low birth weight and reduced foetal organ growth.
What are the best sources of iron for pregnant women?
There are two forms of iron: haem-iron which is only found in animal products (especially red meat) and is easier for your body to absorb and non-haem iron which is found in plant foods such as green leafy vegetables, wholegrain bread, beans and lentils as well meat, poultry and fish.
Beef, turkey (especially the dark meat on the legs), chicken and fish are good sources of iron as part of your pregnancy diet. Although liver is a good source of iron, it should be avoided during pregnancy as it contains excessive amounts of Vitamin A.
Vegetarians should ensure their diet includes plenty of raisins, apricots, prunes and nuts as well as dark green leafy veggies such as watercress, spinach or kale.
Vitamin C can help you to absorb iron more easily, especially from plant foods so team your iron-rich meal with cabbage, broccoli or roast peppers and tomatoes, enjoy a glass of fresh orange juice with your meal or serve fresh fruit as a dessert for maximum benefit.
Caffeine can make it harder for the body to absorb iron, so avoid tea and coffee at meal times.