Are You Getting Enough Iron?

Written by Vicki Ma (Accredited Practising Dietitian and Sports Dietitian)

Tired of feeling tired? Chances are, you could be low in iron!

Symptoms of low iron levels 

  • Tiredness
  • Lethargy
  • Poor concertation
  • Dizziness
  • Low mood
  • Frequent infections

If you have any of these symptoms see your doctor for a blood test to confirm whether your iron level is low. 

Why we need iron? 

Iron is used by the body to carry oxygen in the blood. We need iron for:

  • Healthy growth & brain development – babies, toddler and children need iron for growth and development
  • Make energy – our body needs iron to produce energy from food.
  • Maintain Immunity  the cells that fight infection needs iron to work properly

Iron in food

There are 2 types of iron found in foods – haem iron and nonhaem iron.

  1. Haem iron (found in animal foods) is better absorbed by the body (20 – 25%). These include red meat, chicken, fish and offal (liver and kidney).
  2. Non – haem iron (found in plant foods) is poorly absorbed by the body (only 5 – 10%). These include legumes, wholegrain breads and cereals, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables. It is important that you try and maximiseyour absorption of nonhaem iron by combining it with vitamin Crich foods

How much iron do you need?   

GenderAmount of Iron intake (mg)
Women (50+)8
Women (19 – 50)18
Girls (9 – 18 yrs)8 – 15

Noterequirements vary during pregnancy and lactation.

Iron Supplementation  

The best way to prevent iron deficiency is to eat iron-rich foods regularly. If you are iron deficient, your doctor may prescribe an iron supplement to help your iron levels return to normal. Most people find that once their iron levels have returned to normal, they no longer require supplements. Eating an iron-rich diet will help to maintain healthy iron levels.

Note: Iron tablets should only be taken when a blood test has confirmed that your levels are low.

How much iron in food?  

FoodIron (mg)
Liver (100g)6.5
Kangaroo (100g)3.4
Lean beef (100g)3.1
Lean lamb (100g)2.5
Chicken (100g)0.9
Lean pork (100g)1.4
Tuna (100g)1
Sardines (120g)3.24
Egg (55g)1.1
Kidney beans (1/2 cup)2.1
Baked beans (1/2 cup)2
Lentil (1/2 cup)2.2
Iron fortified breakfast cereal (30g)3
Weet-bix (2 biscuits)2.6
Wholemeal bread (2 slices)1.4
Tofu (2 large squares = 100g)5.2
Spinach (1/2 cup cooked)2.2
Broccoli (1/2 cup cooked)1
Dried apricots (8- 10 halves)1.5
Nuts (30g = 20 almonds)1.1
Milo (2 Tablespoon)2.8

The best sources of iron are beef and lamb as they are high in well absorbed iron. Eating an iron-rich diet which includes 130g of cooked beef or lamb every second day (or 3- 4 times per week) is recommended in the Australian Dietary Guidelines. Beef and lamb contain double the iron compared to pork, chicken and fish. The redder the meat, the more iron it contains. Foods high in iron are also high in zinc, important for growth, development and immunity. Click here to try one of our iron rich recipes 

How to maximise your iron absorption

You can increase your iron absorption by:

  1. Including vitamin C rich foods in meals. Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron by up to 50%. These include orange/orange juice, berries, paw paw, as well as green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, broccoli, and capsicum.

Limit foods that inhibit the absorption of iron. These include coffee, tea and milk. Enjoy these drinks between meals instead of with meals. 

If you do have low iron levels and need specific dietary advised from one of our Accredited Practising Dietitians, click here to contact us today!


Meat & Livestock Australia. 2004. Practical strategies to ensure you are getting enough iron.

Eat for Health. 2015. Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.