Worldwide, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder affecting large numbers of people (mostly women and children) in developing countries and one of the only nutrient deficiencies to be significantly prevalent in more economically developed countries.
In the UK, a significant number of women of all ages appear to have low intakes of iron with nearly a quarter shown to have low stores of the mineral putting them at risk of developing iron deficiency anaemia (compounded by monthly blood loss). Other groups at risk include older people, those who regularly take aspirin or ibuprofen, those with certain chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and pregnant women (particularly during the third trimester of pregnancy).
Iron deficiency can leave you feeling tired and lethargic as the there is not enough of the mineral to make healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. If left untreated this can lead to more serious symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, heart palpitations and hair loss. The human body is programmed to establish balance and when iron stores are depleted it absorbs more but if intake is low or losses are high then this is of little effect.
Red meat supplies one of the most efficient sources of iron in the diet but it’s not confined to this single food and other great providers include green veggies, tofu, quinoa, beans, nuts, lentils, fortified breakfast cereals and dried fruit. However, the amount of iron gleaned from plant-based foods is not as good as that of meat with some studies showing less than 25% absorption. The absorption of iron from such foods can be increased by teaming with those rich in vitamin C such as orange juice (some studies showing up to three times the amount of iron absorbed).
There are some foods that may inhibit iron absorption such as those rich in phytates (raw bran, beans), oxalates (spinach, kale, rhubarb, beetroot) and calcium. However, trying to consider all these foods on a daily basis is a lot to think about and if your diet is varied and balanced then your iron absorption is likely to not be significantly affected. In the presence of iron deficiency they may have some impact but my advice would be to focus on eating a wide variety of foods and especially those rich in iron. Polyphenols in tea and coffee are also thought to affect iron absorption so best to try and drink these between meals.
If you are worried about iron deficiency then go visit your GP who can run a blood test. If your stores are very low you may be advised to take an iron supplement and referred to a dietitian who can provide advise about your diet.
This stir-fry provides a mega-dose of high quality iron (9g per serving), which is 60% of the RDA for an adult female (set at 14.8mg). The veggies in this dish also provide nearly 300% of the RDA for vitamin C, which will help to maximise iron absorption.
I have indulgently opted for fillet steak in this recipe as it’s nice and lean, and remains beautifully tender when cooked. I also eat very little red meat so like to use the best quality on the occasions that I do (most supermarkets do a good value fillet steak). I have also used coconut oil which is great for stir-frying as it reaches a high cooking temperature as well as spring onions, green peppers, mushrooms and dark soy as these ingredients really complement the flavour of beef.
Beef and super greens stir-fry
400 calories (with quinoa)
2 tsp extra virgin coconut oil
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
Thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
175g fillet steak, cut into thin strips
½ lime, juiced
200g tenderstem broccoli, stalks trimmed
4 chestnut mushrooms, sliced
2 spring onions, sliced into 1cm pieces (bulbs and tops)
1 medium courgette, diagonally sliced
1 small green pepper, sliced
½ green chilli, finely diced
Small handful of coriander
1 tbsp dark soy or tamari (reduced sodium)
1. Cook the quinoa by placing in a medium-sized saucepan with three times the amount of cold water (300ml). Bring to the boil and cook for 6-8 minutes until tender (the seeds will start to sprout when cooked). Drain using a sieve and set aside.
2. Heat the coconut oil in a wok over a high heat. Once the oil starts to glimmer add the garlic and ginger, cooking for 1 minute.
3. Add the beef strips and cook for a further 3-5 minutes depending on how cooked you prefer your steak then squeeze in the lime juice and stir.
4. Add the veggies to the pan (not the coriander) and stir continuously for 3-5 minutes (I prefer my veggies really crunchy but don’t like the taste of raw broccoli so once that is tender enough I take off the heat).
5. Turn off the heat and stir through the coriander and soy.
6. Serve in small bowls with the quinoa (you can stir the quinoa through the stir fry before serving)