Iron

Last updated 15 December 2016 — Last reviewed 17 February 2014

Iron is involved in various functions in the body. An important function is its role in the transport of oxygen in the blood as it is part of haemoglobin. Iron also helps the immune system function properly and is part of many enzymes found in the body. Low levels of iron can make you feel fatigued or tired and give you lowered immunity.

There are two types of iron – haem and non-haem iron.

Type of iron Where it is found Absorption
Haem Animal foods such as beef, lamb, chicken, fish and offal.

Well absorbed by the body.

Red meat is the best source of iron.

Non–haem Mainly in plant foods such as beans, lentils, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, wholegrain cereals and iron fortified breakfast cereals, some dried fruit and nuts, eggs.

Not as well absorbed as haem iron.

To boost absorption include foods containing vitamin C and animal protein with foods containing non-haem iron.

The Australian Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for iron is 18mg for women 19-50 years and 8mg for women aged 51 years plus. "Iron is often low in women," says Jean Hailes naturopath Sandra Villella. "It's a balancing act of correct intake and maintenance of desired levels. Poor iron intake or an increase in blood loss, for example from heavy periods, may result in iron deficiency. It's important to have a blood test before taking iron supplements to look at both haemoglobin (iron containing protein in red blood cells) and ferritin (iron store) levels."

TIPS:

  • Eating a large variety of foods in your diet will help you meet your requirements for all nutrients including iron
  • If you are a meat eater, include 2-3 serves of lean red meat each week
  • Include sources of vitamin C to help the absorption of non-haem iron, e.g. fruit, vegetables
  • Calcium can inhibit iron absorption so try to avoid eating foods high in calcium with good sources of iron if you are iron deficient
  • If you require iron supplements, take iron supplements at a different time of the day to calcium supplements, and at a meal with no dairy or that that is relatively low in dairy[1]

References

  1. www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/912.html

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at February 2014.

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