Teenagers are renowned for being tired and moody, however before you dismiss their attitude as the usual teenage angst, be sure they are getting enough iron.
Insufficient intake of iron can lead to iron deficiency anaemia, which can cause irritability, moodiness, lethargy, loss of appetite, poor immune function, pale lips and gums, easy bruising and poor growth.
Within the body iron has many important functions including the transport of oxygen via blood which is essential for cellular function. For this reason it is particularly important to ensure adequate intake of iron during periods of rapid growth and development such as infancy, childhood, adolescence and pregnancy.
Teenage girls are especially vulnerable to iron deficiency (anaemia) not primarily because of their diet but the high iron losses that come with the onset of menarche (their first period). Of course fad dieting, due to perceived body weight issues, a means of asserting independence, or expressing ideologies such as animal rights through vegetarianism, can contribute to low iron levels too.
Iron is found in both plant and animal foods however animal sources such as red meat, liver, chicken and fish, are more readily absorbed then plant based sources. The rate of iron absorption from plant foods can be increased however by partnering them with good sources of vitamin C. This can increase the absorption rate of plant based iron (non-heme) six fold, making it quiet comparable with animal (heme) sources. Good plant based sources of iron include dried beans, lentils, peas, broccoli, spinach, kale and whole grains. Fortified breakfast cereals or breads can also be good options.
Between the age of 14 – 18 years (when iron needs are at their highest, with the exception of pregnancy) girls require about 15mg of iron per day.
By eating a range of foods from across the five food groups it should be possible to achieve an adequate intake of iron, however consult with your GP if you have any concerns.
The diet plan below deliberately excludes meat to demonstrate that it is still possible to meet iron requirements on a well-balanced plant based diet. Care has been taken to ensure adequate vitamin C is included at each meal to increase non-heme iron absorption. Recommended servings from each of the five food groups have also been met.
Breakfast: Wheat biscuits with raisins and milk
- 3 Wheat biscuits (4 mg iron)
- 1/4 cup raisin (0.8mg iron)
- 1 cup milk (0.1mg iron)
Morning Snack: Almonds and watermelon
- 2 slices Watermelon (1.4mg iron)
- ¼ cup almonds (1.3mg iron)
Lunch: Split pea soup with a wholegrain roll and carrot sticks on the side
- 1 whole grain bread roll (1.4mg iron)
- 1.5 cup homemade split pea soup (3.5 mg iron)
- ½ cup carrot sticks (0.1mg iron)
Afternoon Tea: Wholegrain and nut muesli bar and yoghurt
- Oat and nut muesli bar (1.5mg iron)
- 200g low fat yoghurt (0.2mg iron)
Dinner: Lentil Bolognese with hidden veggies
- 1/2 cup brown lentils (3.3mg iron)
- 1 cup spinach (1.8 mg iron)
- ½ cup broccoli (0.5mg iron)
- 100g of whole grain pasta (1.1mg iron)
- Tomato based sauce (1.0mg iron)
- 40g tasty cheese (0.3mg iron)
Total iron intake =22.3mg