Teen girls and iron

Only 60% of teenage girls have the recommended amount of iron in their diet. A lack of iron can make you feel tired, faint and breathless. It can also make it difficult to concentrate, which makes studying and taking exams more difficult. But it’s easy to get more iron into your diet.  

Registered dietitian Azmina Govindji explains why iron is so important for girls and young women, and how to get more iron into your diet.

Why is it so important for teenage girls to get enough iron?
“Girls start their periods when they go through puberty, which is usually during the teenage years, and with blood loss comes iron loss. It’s important to ensure you have adequate iron from a variety of foods to avoid the unpleasant physical effects of iron deficiency, such as tiredness and breathlessness.”

How do you know if you’re short of iron?
“Symptoms of iron deficiency include tiredness, feeling faint, and breathlessness, but iron deficiency can only be diagnosed through a blood test. If you believe you may be low in iron because you're feeling tired and lethargic, speak to your GP or a registered dietitian. If your blood iron levels are found to be low, you may be prescribed a supplement.”

Should all teen girls take an iron supplement?
“No. You can usually get all the iron you need by eating a healthy balanced diet. Only take an iron supplement if you have been advised to by your GP.”

Can you recommend some easy tips to get more iron into your diet?
“Iron-containing snacks include dried fruits such as apricots and raisins, and unsalted nuts. Keep these foods in your bag and you’ll have healthy iron-rich treats when you're feeling peckish. Red meat is a very rich source of iron, although you don’t need to eat it every day. Most breakfast cereals are fortified with iron, so they’re a great addition to your daily routine.”

Checklist of iron-rich foods

  • Red meat (beef, lamb, pork) is rich in iron that is easily absorbed. As a general rule, the darker the meat, the more iron it contains
  • Poultry contains some iron, and the leg meat is richer in iron than the breast meat
  • Fish contains some iron, especially oily fish (such as mackerel and sardines) and molluscs (such as mussels)
  • Green leafy vegetables, such as watercress and kale
  • Baked beans
  • Boiled or poached egg
  • Wholemeal bread
  • Fortified breakfast cereal
  • Dried figs and apricots
  • Raisins
  • Sesame seeds

Meal ideas

If you’re concerned that you’re not getting enough iron in your diet but don’t know where to start, try some of our meal plan ideas:

Breakfast

  • Fortified breakfast cereal with lower-fat milk
  • Poached/boiled egg on wholemeal toast with baked beans and a grilled tomato

Lunch

  • Sardines on wholemeal toast
  • Chicken salad with watercress, tomatoes, raw carrot and new potatoes
  • Bean salad with chickpeas, red kidney beans, onion, garlic, lemon juice, cucumber and tomato
  • Pitta bread with houmous, red pepper and celery

Dinner

  • Beef or vegetable stir fry with spring greens and cashew nuts and brown rice
  • Spaghetti bolognese with beef or lamb mince and salad (or soya mince and lentils for a vegetarian option)

Snacks

  • Dried fruit, such as apricots or figs
  • Almonds
  • Small bar of dark chocolate
  • Small fruit flapjack

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Media last reviewed: 27/12/2012

Next review due: 27/12/2014

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