How to get enough Iron in your diet

Many nutrient requirements change through the lifespan and iron is no exception, not only is there different requirements at different ages there are different requirements between genders. This article will explore different recommendations helping you reach your daily intake through highlighting foods rich in iron.

Iron is a mineral that has many different roles within the body. Iron is needed for cell growth and production of red blood cells in our blood, the haemoglobin in red blood cells binds oxygen and transports it around the body. The British Nutrition foundation state that iron is also an essential component in many enzyme reactions, having an important role in the immune system.

Recommended intake for different groups:

The British Dietetic Association provide the table below to help us recognise the different requirements;

Population GroupAge (years)Iron mg per day
Infants0-3 months


4-6 months






Children1-3 years


4-6 years

7-10 years





Adolescents11-18 years14.8 (girls)


11.3 (boys)

Adults19-50 years


50+ years

8.7 (males) 14.8 (females)



Iron deficiency:

Iron deficiencies occur when a lack of dietary iron results in a deplete in iron stores in the body. More than 2 billion people in the world suffer from anaemia making iron deficiency the most common nutrient deficiency. Mild anaemia symptoms are often feeling tired, lacking energy, shortness of breath and sometimes an increased risk of infection. More severe iron deficiency symptoms are heart palpitations, brittle nails, itchy skin and mouth ulcers developing.

Population groups that are more at risk of iron deficiency are woman of a child bearing age and teenage girls as you can see from the table above their requirements are higher than those of men the same age. The National diet and nutrition survey (NDNS) indicate that women are below the reference nutrient intake (RNI) and that younger woman are below the lower reference nutrient intake resulting in intakes being inadequate.

Although woman of a child bearing age require more iron, there is currently no need to increase intake during pregnancy. The BNF state that the extra demand can be supported by pre-existing stores and the lack of menstrual blood loss.

Dietary Iron:

There are two main sources of dietary iron; haem iron which is found in animal food and non-haem iron which is found in plant-based foods. Haem iron is the most bioavailable form of iron with sources being red meat; beef, lamb and pork particularly rich sources whereas poultry and fish aren’t as rich. However, even though haem iron is the most bioavailable, non-haem iron is the predominant source in our diets through foods such as cereals, pulses, beans, nuts, fruit and vegetables. It is important to understand that non-haem needs a little help with absorption, for meat eaters this isn’t so difficult as haem iron can increase the absorption so a balanced plate of red meat and green leafy vegetables can have a positive affect on iron absorption.

Optimal iron sources for plant-based diets:

Non-haem iron can be affected by different foods which can potential reduce the absorption. Phytate, fibre, tannins (in tea) and calcium can all bind to non-haem iron in the intestine (resulting in low absorption rates) however, eating foods rich in vitamin C such as fruit and vegetables can support the absorption when eaten at the same time. For example, teaming a small glass of orange juice and topping your porridge and fortified milk with seeds and berries may help aid absorption.

Foods rich in iron:

Animal products which are high in iron include;

Beef, pork, lamb, liver, sausages and eggs with some fish including mackerel, tinned tuna and prawns contain small amounts.

Plant-based sources of iron include;

Baked beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, tofu, figs, almonds, brazil nuts, peanut butter, sesames seeds, sunflower seeds and green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach.

Fruit and vegetables to team with the plant-based sources (high in vitamin C) include;

Kale, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, oranges, broccoli, mango, red peppers (some are a source of iron too!)

Top Tips:

  • A balanced, colourful plate full of a variety of vegetables
  • Try a small amount of dried fruit for dessert such as apricots/figs
  • Add beans with meat in stews, curries, pasta dishes
  • Sprinkle salads with seeds such as sesame or sunflower
  • Opt for fortified foods such as milks and cereals (check the label, is iron fortified?)
  • Seek help from a Registered professional if you think you maybe deficient in iron, the doctor can check with a blood test.


British Nutrition Foundation

British Dietetic Association

One thought on “How to get enough Iron in your diet

  1. Pingback: Pregnancy Nutrition: Everything you need to know |

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