Iron is a mineral that is found in a range of foods. It helps to transport oxygen around the body, making it essential for life!

It is also important for producing energy, optimal immune function, and storing oxygen in our muscles (this is what gives muscles their red colour!)

How much iron do I need? 
Age Recommended Daily Intake1
 All 1-3 years 9mg per day
 All 4-8 10mg per day
 Girls 9-13 8mg per day
 Girls 14–18 15mg per day
 Boys 9-13 8mg per day
 Boys 14–18 11mg per day
 Females 19–50 18mg per day
 Female 51+ 8mg per day
 Males 19+ 8mg per day
Pregnant & lactating women Recommended Daily Intake1
 All pregnant women 27mg per day
 Lactating women, 14–18 years 10mg per day
 Lactating women, 19–30 9mg per day

For example, a man could get his RDI for iron by simply having a serve of wholegrain iron-enriched breakfast cereal, a serve of red meat and handful of nuts in one day.

Women in their reproductive years have a much higher iron requirement than men, due to the loss of monthly blood. As such they can find it difficult to meet their daily requirements with food alone, which means they also have a higher risk of iron deficiency.

Women are advised to have their iron levels regularly checked by their GP, who may recommend further dietary measures or an iron supplement.

Symptoms of iron deficiency

  • Fatigue
  • Lack of concentration
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Headache
  • Pale skin
  • Weakness/dizziness
  Who is at risk of iron deficiency?

  • Women in reproductive years
  • Young children
  • Pregnant women
  • Vegetarians
  • Vegans
Where do I find iron in foods?

There are two types of iron that we can get from foods:

  • Iron from animal sources is known as haem iron
  • Iron from plant-based sources is called as non-haem iron.

Haem iron is absorbed more efficiently and in a different way to non-haem iron.

Animal-based iron sources
Food Serving size Iron content
Chicken liver 100g 11mg
Beef 100g 3.5mg
Kangaroo 100g 3.2mg
Lamb 100g 2.5mg
Salmon 100g 1.28mg
Tinned tuna 100g 1.07mg
Lamb brains 100g 1.0mg
Pork 100g 0.8mg
Chicken 100g 0.4mg
Snapper 100g 0.3mg
Plant-based iron sources
Food Serving size Iron content
Weetbix TM 30g 4.2mg
All Bran TM 30g 3.2mg
Kidney beans 1 cup 3.1mg
Green lentils 1 cup 3.0mg
Tofu 100g 2.96mg
Chickpeas 1 cup 2.7mg
Cooked wholemeal pasta 140g (1 cup) 2.3mg
Cashew nuts 30g (20 nuts) 1.5mg
Raw spinach 1 cup 1.2mg
Rolled oats 30g 1.1mg
Almonds 30g 1.1mg
Dried apricot 30g (5 dried apricots) 0.93mg
Broccoli 1 cup 0.86mg
Cooked brown rice 140g (1 cup) 0.7mg
Wholegrain bread 1 slice 0.4mg
How can I improve my iron intake?

Some foods can help our bodies absorb iron, while others can inhibit it.

To ensure your iron is being absorbed we recommend that you:

  • eat foods high in vitamin C with foods that contain iron
  • cook your plant foods to improve the amount of available iron
  • avoid having tea, coffee or calcium during or directly after having a source of iron
  • speak to your doctor about any possible dietary interactions with your medications or herbal supplements that could impair iron absorption.

Ensure that you only take iron supplements under the advice of a GP, as too much iron can also be harmful.

1 Source: 

Produced by Nutrition Australia Vic Division, October 2014.
© 2014. The Australian Nutrition Foundation (Victoria) Inc. t/a Nutrition Australia Vic Division.  All rights reserved.