Iron is an important mineral needed for optimal health and it is not uncommon to have a low intake of it. It plays a key role in transporting oxygen around the body. The world health organisation has stated that iron deficiency is the most prevalent nutrient deficiency worldwide. It affects 33% of non-pregnant women, 40% of pregnant women and 42% of children.

Without sufficient iron, red blood cell production cannot be carried out efficiently. Brain function may become impaired, skeletal muscle metabolism declines, the production of thyroid hormones diminishes. The immune system and protein synthesis is also negatively affected.

Read on for a helpful insight to how you can refrain from these symptoms (even if you don’t eat red meat).



Types of iron & Sources


There are two types of iron:

  1. haem iron
  2. non-haem iron.


Haem iron is more easily absorbed by the body and is found in animal tissue:

  • beef
  • lamb
  • chicken
  • fish and
  • kangaroo


Internal organs of animals such as the kidneys and liver present high levels of iron.

Non-haem iron is not linked to a haem protein, giving the body a reduced ability to absorb the iron. Food sources include iron-fortified cereals, pasta, breads, legumes and wholegrains. Dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, prunes and dried beans and peas all contain non-haem iron. It is important to note that if you do not eat meat, you may need to increase your intake by two to get the same recommended amount.





Haem foods Quantity Iron (mg)
Kangaroo 150g (cooked) »6.3
T-bone / rib-eye steak 100g (cooked) 3.6
Lamb shoulder roast 100g (cooked) 2.7
Lamb leg sirloin 100g (roasted) 2.2
Lamb liver 28g (cooked) 2.9
Chicken liver 28g (fried) 2.8
Beef liver 28g (fried) 1.7
Lamb kidney 28g (cooked) 1.6
Chicken breast or thigh 100g (roasted) 1
Eggs 50g (poached) 0.88
Salmon 85g (tinned) 0.48
Salmon fillet 170g (cooked) 1.8
Non-haem foods  
Spinach 100g (cooked) 3.6
Lentils 100g (cooked) 3.3
Chickpeas 100g (cooked) 2.9
Pumpkin seeds 15g 2.25
Sesame seeds 15g 2.2
Kidney beans 100g (cooked) 2.2
Cashews 28g 1.9
Almonds 28g 1.1
Broccoli 100g (cooked) 2.2
Spinach 30g (raw) 0.81
Brown rice (long grain) 100g (cooked) 0.56
Prunes 40g (3) 0.36


Recommended iron intake for optimal health


The amount of iron required differs greatly amongst populations based on sex and age. Women are more susceptible to iron deficiency due to the blood lost during menstruation. Children also require more iron as they grow.

From 14-18 years of age, 11 and 15mg of iron/ day is the recommended daily amount for girls and boys respectively. This figure increases for women aged 19-50 to 18mg/day, while men 19+ require only 8mg/day.

For pregnant women, this RDA increases again to 27mg/day, and 9/day for breastfeeding women.

Post menopause, 8mg/day is sufficed for the majority of women.  As you can see from table 1, red meat provides large amounts in comparison to non-haem options. Spinach and lentils also require large amounts to get a substantial amount of iron.

Without adequate iron amounts, there is a risk of iron deficient anaemia. This can cause fatigue, dizziness, lethargy or light-headiness or abnormal heartbeats.

Excessive iron can also cause problems, reducing zinc absorption and plasma concentrations. The best way to reach your targets safely include eating a balanced diet following the guidelines below:

  • Includs a variety of vegetables; fruits; grains (at least half whole grains); fat-free and low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese; and oils.
    • Remember many ready-to-eat breakfast cereals are fortified with iron, and some fruits and vegetables contain iron.
  • Includes a variety of protein foods such as lean meats; poultry; eggs; seafood; beans, peas, and lentils; nuts and seeds; and soy products.
    • Oysters and beef liver have high amounts of iron. Beef, cashews, chickpeas, and sardines are good sources of iron. Chicken, tuna, and eggs contain iron.
  • ​​​​​​​Limits foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.
  • Limits alcoholic beverages.

Iron supplements may be recommended on an individual basis if advised by a professional.


Iron – In summary


Iron intake is crucial for optimal health, aiding in oxygen transport throughout the body. However, iron deficiency is widespread, affecting a significant portion of the global population, particularly women and children. While haem iron from animal sources is more easily absorbed, non-haem iron from plant-based foods is also essential and can be optimized through dietary choices and, if necessary, supplements.


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