Feeling energetic and healthy is the goal, but if you’re exhausted on the daily, check in on your iron intake.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Add iron so you Fe-el great 

We all want to feel good and energised, all day. That feeling of being able to give your best, to get through the day without feeling lethargic; makes us value our strength and bodies. And well, throughout our busy lives, it’s easy to mistake feeling tired with lack of sleep or work stress. While this might all sound all too familiar and you’d think it’s just a normal feeling, there could be more to it — like being low on iron without even knowing it.

Feeling tired from iron deficiency is not something you can fix with just a cup of coffee. In fact, it may seem as if nothing could get rid of this inexplicable fatigue. This is when you should get your iron levels checked as it may interrupt your daily routines: you lose ability to stay awake and have low productivity at work, and find it hard to get through a workout without being short of breath.

Being low on iron can also lead to anemia. While not all with low iron suffer from it, iron deficiency accounts for half of the world’s anemia cases according to a study published by American Family Physician in 2013. So don’t wait, read on to find out how you can maintain your daily iron intake and keep your iron level up. 

My Reading Room


Women are a little more likely to be iron deficient compared to men, because our monthly menstrual cycles cause us to lose blood. Therefore, we're more prone to anemia. “Iron is a vital component for our haemoglobin, the protein which carries oxygen in our red blood cells. This protein will help transport oxygen from our lungs to other parts of the body. That’s the main function of iron,” Ernie explains. So really, iron is essential for our well-being.


How do we know if we’re iron deficient? Ernie Syafika binti Zamri, a consultant at Mega Lifesciences tells us that unusual tiredness, pale skin, irregular heartbeat or shortness of breath are some of the symptoms and signs that you might need an iron boost. To be really sure, visiting your nearest healthcare provider like hospitals, clinics or pharmacies to do a full blood count is your best bet. This test will not only tell you your cholesterol or sugar level, it’ll also indicate your haemoglobin level. Sara Khong Cheng Kuan, a cookbook writer and food consultant experienced being iron deficient when she was a teenager. “I was feeling very weak and my hair started falling,” she recalls the experience. “I went to the doctor’s and was told that I was iron deficient. He prescribed some iron pills and I got much better.” 

“Visiting your nearest health-care provider like a hospital, clinic or pharmacy to do a full blood count is your best bet.” 


It’s definitely possible to get sufficient iron from our regular diet if we’re really good about it like following the recommended food pyramid, for instance. But with our day-to-day lifestyle, we need to make an effort like cooking at home or making healthy food choices when we’re eating out. Taking iron-rich meals is important when you’re iron deficient or just looking to maintain sufficient iron intake. Ernie says the key here is to have iron-rich food with vitamin C as it’ll “enhance the absorption rate of iron.” Also, avoid things like milk, tea and coffee because these will block the absorption of iron. So, that means cutting down on your usual coffee runs throughout the day. Sara also suggests making a red date tonic. Her recipe? “Just put dates and water in a pot and boil. You can do it in a pot, slow cooker, or pressure cooker.”


Ernie advises to include chicken, meat, green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, and fruits such as dates, prunes and raisins in our diets to keep our iron intake up. Nuts and legumes like cashew nuts, soybean and chickpeas are also great sources of iron. Sara makes it a point to add iron-rich ingredients into the food she orders. “I have the habit of ordering char kway teow with extra hum (cockle), stir-fried spinach, and I always order orange juice which helps with iron absorption.” Some other examples she gave is to order seaweed miso soup at Japanese restaurants, and beef steak or chicken liver at yakitori joints if you’re into it. 


The reality is, some of us just aren’t great at keeping track of our nutrient intake. That’s where iron supplements come in, and girls can start taking them as early as when they start puberty, Ernie says. She recommends getting a consultation and recommendations from your doctor or healthcare professional before taking regular supplements. When choosing an iron supplement, Ernie says we need to look out for one that contains high elemental iron, which refers to the amount of iron that’s ready to be absorbed in the body. A good iron supplement should also cause less side effects while taking them like nausea and vomiting. Iron supplements are easy to take, so you can be the woman of steel you need to be. 

My Reading Room


The iron-rich food to add to your diet.

1 Beans: A good source of protein and iron for vegetarians and vegans, beans such as kidney beans and soy provide non-heme iron.

2 Wholewheat bread: Choose wholewheat instead of white bread as whole grains contain higher levels of iron.

3 Red meat: If you’re a carnivore, consider taking red meat like beef or lamb which are sources for heme iron, the type of iron that is absorbed by our bodies more easily.