Iron Levels During Pregnancy

Iron is definitely not what first comes to mind when the subject of nutrition comes up, however it is a critical element of any healthy diet and is especially important during a pregnancy, when your body is in need of certain materials and nutrients more than others. Iron is one of these, and this article details why Iron is so important to have in your diet, particularly when pregnant.

What is dietary iron?

Dietary iron is, in chemical terms, no different to the metal which surrounds us every day. It is the exact same molecule but in minute quantities used by the body for a process absolutely essential to life: the transport of oxygen to our cells and tissues. Iron is an integral part of a molecule called haemoglobin which is found in red blood cells, and this complex basically picks up oxygen as blood travels through the lungs, carrying it around to cells which need it to perform the basic processes which keep us alive.

Because of this basic and vital function, dietary iron is one of the most important micro-nutrients (nutrients we need in relatively small quantities) in our diet. However it is also the basis of one of the most common nutritional deficiencies, which can have particularly detrimental effects on your health if you are pregnant .

Dietary iron and pregnancy

During a pregnancy your body is sustaining both yourself and your unborn child, and as the pregnancy continues and the foetus grows larger and larger, the demands placed on your body increase. Your body needs to provide both your own cells and those of your developing child with the oxygen and nutrition necessary for growth and development. To do this effectively, the cells responsible for transporting oxygen etc. (red blood cells) need iron.

Iron deficiency

Insufficient iron results in a condition called iron deficiency anaemia, which typically presents with fatigue, irritability, weakness, and a pale complexion or pallor. This condition can have dangerous long term effects, but is fortunately easily treated once recognised. It is also more serious when pregnant as poor oxygen delivery to a developing foetus can be very dangerous and severely affect the development and growth of the child.

What are good sources of iron?

Fortunately there are many foods which are rich in iron, however the fact that many of these are meat products contributes to the prevalence of iron deficiency amongst the vegetarian and vegan communities. That being said, there are many vegetable sources of iron, you just need to be careful to incorporate these into your diet. In addition, iron derived from plant sources is less readily absorbed by the body, which is another reason to be careful and ensure you are getting enough iron in your diet if you are vegetarian.

Animal sources of iron include poultry, red meat, and oddly enough insects. Iron is also found in abundance in lentils and beans, as well as nuts like pistachios, leafy vegetables, and fortified cereals and bread.

Moreover iron supplements are widely available and are part of prenatal supplement tablets if you are pregnant and looking to make sure that you get enough iron in your diet.

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