Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo Canterbury

How to get your daily iron

FDP piggyback girlsGetting enough iron is essential for good health and wellbeing. Iron helps to carry oxygen in your blood from your lungs to your brain and muscles. This helps to keep you physically and mentally strong.

If you don't get enough iron you will feel tired, faint, and breathless, and you might find it hard to concentrate. Your skin might also be pale.

Some people have a higher risk of low iron levels. These include:

If you think you are low in iron talk to your doctor or practice nurse, as the only way to diagnose iron deficiency is through a blood test. You can't treat it by diet alone, so if you are low in iron your doctor may prescribe an iron supplement. Your doctor will also treat whatever is causing your iron deficiency. But even if you are prescribed a supplement, it is still important to get enough iron in your diet.

What foods contain iron?

Many foods have small amounts of iron. We absorb the iron in animal foods such as meat and fish more easily than the iron in plant foods, such as cereals, nuts, vegetables and fruit.

Excellent sources of iron

The redder the meat the higher the iron content.

Good sources of iron

Useful sources of iron

Tips to improve your iron intake

Choose a variety of foods

This is the best way to get enough iron. Every day have food from all the main food groups:

Eat lean red meat regularly

FDP citrus fruitMeat, chicken and fish help the body to absorb the iron in vegetables.

Get plenty of vitamin C

Vitamin C helps us to absorb up to four times as much iron. You can get vitamin C from many fruit (berries, feijoas, kiwi fruit, mandarin, orange, rock melon, tamarillo) and vegetables (broccoli, capsicum, cauliflower, tomato). Try to include fruit or vegetables with every meal, especially if you are vegetarian.

Eat a variety of plant foods if you are vegetarian

Have plenty of green leafy vegetables and wholegrains, and regularly include eggs, legumes, tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds.

Keep your meals tannin-free

The tannin in tea and coffee stops your body from absorbing as much iron. Drink tea and coffee between meals rather than with meals.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. September 2014.

Sources

See also:

Intravenous (IV) iron

Iron-rich meal ideas

Taking iron supplements

Images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Teenage girls by imagerymajestic, bread by Grant Cochrane, citrus fruit by xura

Page reference: 122284

Review key: HIIRO-122590