Monday saw the launch of the very first Iron Awareness Week in New Zealand, launched by Beef + Lamb New Zealand to highlight the issue of iron deficiency in a ‘land of plenty’.
Thousands of New Zealanders are affected by Iron deficiency and even more may not be aware that they are iron deficient. Common symptoms of iron deficiency are:
- Fatigue, lethargy, tiredness
- Brittle nails
- Decreased immunity
- Irritability/ grumpiness
- Concentration issues
- Feel the cold
- Decreased athletic performance
- Developmental delay/ learning difficulties in the young
What do we need Iron for?
Iron is an important element and is the second most prolific metal on the planet. You would wonder why then, we have such a hard time getting enough of it. In fact, did you know that the body is actually really good at recycling iron? The body only loses 10% of its iron day to day and recycles the other 90% of requirements. It is this 10% that we rely on from our diet, and it’s this absorption part that is particularly hard to do.
Iron is needed along with haemoglobin to transport oxygen from the lungs to the tissues where it is used in the process of making energy. Iron also plays a role in immunity and has roles in other important enzymatic functions. Without iron to perform these vital functions the body will not be able to cope, leading to morbidity and eventual death.
In the latest National Nutrition Survey it was found that 1 in 14 women aged over 15 are iron deficient and a third of teenage girls do not meet their daily requirements for dietary iron. Statistics also tell us that 8/10 toddlers do not get their recommended daily requirements of iron leading to 14% of children under 2 being deficient.
So in an effort to do something about these figures Beef + Lamb New Zealand facilitated an Iron Symposium on Tuesday, hosted by the fine people at Auckland University and I was lucky enough to attend.
Five great speakers talked to us about all things iron. I will just highlight a few of the take home messages that I got from the day that may be useful to you at home.
Take Home Messages
- There are two types or iron; Haem Iron and Non Haem Iron. Haem iron (found in meat and fish) is more easily absorbed than non haem iron which is found in plant based foods
- Whilst pork and chicken do contain haem iron, the best possible sources of haem iron are red meats, so be sure to include LEAN red meats in your diet 2-3 times/week if you can
- Vitamin C is a great enhancer of non haem iron absorption. To use this to your advantage include plenty of vegetables and fruits alongside your main meals. If you have an iron enriched breakfast cereal, try having 2 kiwifruit with it instead of other fruits to ensure the maximum amount of iron can be absorbed as possible.
- Try not to overcook your Vitamin C containing veges – Vitamin C is not very heat stable, meaning that when you cook something containing Vitamin C you can destroy it. Blanching, or steaming veges lightly is a good way to prevent destroying the nutrients
- Eating meat helps the absorption of non haem iron
- On the other hand tannins (found in tea and coffee) polyphenols (found in some fruits and vegetables) and phytates (found in cereals) inhibit iron absorption. The easiest way to deal with this is to be aware and to avoid drinking hot drinks with meals. Try to have them in-between instead
- Be careful if you are dieting, as research shows that those on low calorie diets don’t get their daily iron needs. If you are trying to lose weight, remember lean red meat should still be included in a healthy eating plan
- If you exercise a lot and strenuously, your iron requirements are likely to be higher as you are also at increased risk of losing more iron. This can require careful dietary manipulation for athletes and it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your levels
- Up to 25% of the NZ population could be iron deficient. The most at risk groups are: infants, girls and women who have periods, pregnant and breast feeding women, teenagers, those who exercise, vegetarians and the elderly
How do I know if I am deficient?
You may be deficient if you are suffering from one or more of the symptoms listed above. However to be certain, you will need to see your Doctor and ask for a blood test.
For more information see www.ironweek.co.nz
As it was the last day of Iron Awareness Week, I wanted to ensure that I was set up for a few days with a meal that was going to give me a good injection of iron! I am a keen exerciser and know from experience that if I am not careful, my iron levels do drop to a number that is less than ideal.
Lasagne is a great comfort food family favourite, and with the days getting shorter, nights becoming darker (or at least a lot earlier) and the weather getting cooler, everyone has a favourite meal they like to turn to from their childhoods. One of my favourites was definitely Lasagne. But how can Lasagne be healthy I hear you ask? Mince is not always the healthiest meat cut, but it is a great choice, as it is sooooo versatile. If you choose lean mince it cuts a lot of the fat out that you may have had with regular mince meat. The other trick you can do is drain off any of the liquid fat that comes to the surface as you are cooking. Despite these ideas it is still important to limit the number of processed meat dishes you have each week. I.e. if you have had sausages one night, leave the mince based dish until the following week and choose a leaner cut of meat, or chicken or fish instead.
Mince meat is also a great carrier for vegetables, especially if you have a fussy eater in the household (I’m not just talking about little ones here.) Yes, that’s right, vegetables can actually be hidden in the humble Lasagne. What veges to add? Basically whatever you have. And it doesn’t matter whether you use fresh, frozen or canned. As you can see I utilised all of those options in my Lasagne. If you really are trying to hide certain vegetables, this is where your grater comes in extra handy! The other thing I like to add to mince dishes is kidney beans. Along with the vegetables, it adds to the bulk of the meal, meaning that your meat will go further, and your meal will serve more people, or leave you with plenty of leftovers. Not only will it bulk out your meal, but kidney beans (and the veges) add fibre to a dish that otherwise may not have a lot. Fibre will keep your bowel nice and healthy, and keep you feeling fuller for longer. All good things!
Ingredients serves 6
500g lean beef mince
2-3 garlic cloves
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cans canned tomatoes
1 can kidney beans
Fresh vegetables of choice ( I used grated carrot, courgette, sliced mushrooms, diced capsicums)
3-4 portions of frozen spinach
Worcestershire sauce as desired
Salt and Pepper to season
Herbs of choice
Wholemeal Lasagne sheets
For my lasagne I try to make it as quick as possible with little fuss. And of course there are some things you may want to swap in or out depending on your taste preferences.
Firstly soften your onions and garlic in the oil, then add your mince to brown. This is where you can drain any excess fat if you wish. Add your canned tomatoes and let cook together for around 5 minutes. Next add your other veges, sauces, herbs and seasonings. Bring it to the boil and then let simmer until the juices have reduced and your desired consistency is reached. If you like your veges with a bit of crunch, add them at the last minute.
If you’re making a cheese sauce, this is the time to do it! A good idea is to use a spread instead of butter and trim milk instead of standard milk in your sauce to cut down the amount of saturated fat you use. You can also decrease the amount of cheese you need to use by using a very highly flavoured cheese such as Parmesan.
You are now ready to layer it up!!
I suggest starting with mince as the bottom layer and then adding a layer of Lasagne sheets. Divide the rest of the mince mixture and cheese sauce evenly, finishing with a layer of Lasagne sheets and cheese sauce on top. Sprinkle a small amount of grated cheese over the top and bake in the oven at 180 degrees for about 20 minutes or until nicely browned.
A lot of people often serve pasta based dishes with another form of carbohydrate – think Garlic Bread. Why do we need two forms of carbohydrate? Unless you are an extreme athlete, you don’t! So I reckon ditch the extra bread (likely white and processed i.e. not good) and serve your Lasagne with a gorgeous colourful salad instead. This will not only add colour to your plate and make your Instagram photos that much more appealing, it will also add extra fibre and extra vitamins and minerals including that all important Vitamin C that will help the absorption of any Non Haem Iron we have in our meal.
If you are really trying to keep carbohydrates to a minimum, you can swap the lasagne sheets for layers of vegetable such as courgette, eggplant or carrot. Although the carbohydrate content of this lasagne is not that high anyway as I only used two layers of pasta sheets for the entire dish.
1: Wall, CR et al. (2008). Ethnic variance in iron status: is it related to dietary intake? Public Health Nutr 12 (9):1413-1421. 2: Grant, CC et al. (2007). Population prevalence and risk factors for iron
deficiency in Auckland, New Zealand. J Paediatr Child Health 43: 532-538. 3. University of Otago and Ministry of Health. (2011). A Focus on Nutrition: Key findings of the 2008/09 New Zealand Adult
Nutrition Survey. Wellington: Ministry of Health.