A UK report has found most Brits gain adequate levels of iron, but warned that the elderly, small children, girls, some women and the poor may be susceptible to deficiencies and should consider iron supplementation among other measures. “While most people in the UK are iron replete, health professionals need to be alert to increased risk of iron deficiency anaemia in toddlers, girls and women of reproductive age (particularly those from low income groups) and some adults aged over 65 years,” wrote the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition’s Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA).
“Those with symptoms suggesting iron deficiency anaemia should receive appropriate clinical assessment and advice, including dietary advice on how to increase their iron intakes and to consider use of iron supplements if required.” The report updated COMA’s 1998 finding that high levels of red meat consumption were linked to colorectal cancer and also investigated the effects of reduced iron-rich red meat consumption. COMA concluded that a, “healthy balanced diet, which includes a variety of foods containing iron” is the best way to attain, “adequate iron status”.
“Such an approach is more important than consuming iron-rich foods at the same time as foods/drinks that enhance iron absorption (e.g., fruit juice, meat) or not consuming iron rich foods with those that inhibit iron absorption (e.g., tea, coffee, milk),” the committee said.
On the issue or red meat consumption COMA found that reduced red meat consumption levels would not cause widespread iron deficiencies. “Adults with relatively high intakes of red and processed meat (around 90 g/day or more) should consider reducing their intakes. A reduction to the UK population average for adult consumers (70 g/day cooked weight) would have little impact on the proportion of the adult population with low iron intakes.”
Current UK guidelines state that 3.2 oz (90g) is a healthy daily portion of red meat, and that only those who eat more than 5oz (140g) need to cut back. However some research has challenged these levels. A 2005 European study found those who regularly eat more than 5.6oz (160g) of red meat daily increase their risk of contracting bowel cancer by a third. In 2007, the World Cancer Research Fund report in 2007 concluded that there was a link between red meat consumption and an increased risk of bowel cancer.
The COMA report follows research from the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) which contradicts these recommendations