Who needs Iron?

Ten Tips to Improve your Iron Intake

Fatigue, lethargy, frequent infections and reduced resistance to cold. It may surprise you that these commonplace symptoms are often caused by iron deficiency and can be easily avoided by increasing your iron intake. Women, particularly during pregnancy, teenage girls, athletes and vegetarians, are most at risk of being iron deficient.

Follow these ten simple steps to make sure your daily intake is adequate

  • Eat Lean Meat Regularly for Top Iron Intake - There are two types of iron in food: haem iron (found in meat and fish) and non-haem iron (found mainly in plants). Meat also contains some non-haem iron. The body absorbs the haem iron in meat much more efficiently than the non-haem iron in plant foods. For example 1/4 cup of cooked silverbeet contains 0.5mg of iron, but the body can only use about 5% of this. In comparison, 120g of cooked lean beef contains an average of 3.1mg of iron and the body absorbs around 25% of it. You would need to eat a massive 1kg of cooked silverbeet to get the same amount of iron provided by just 120g of lean meat. This equates to a moderate serving of spaghetti bolognaise or a couple small lamb leg steaks.
  • See Red - Red meats are richer in haem iron than white meat, poultry and fish, so eat red meat for a top iron intake.
  • Get Plenty of Vitamin C - Vitamin C helps the body to use non-haem iron – the iron in plant foods. Include plenty of fruit, fruit juices or vegetables rich in vitamin C with your meals.
  • Eat Red Meat and Vegetables Together - Eat a combination of red meat and plant foods (vegetables, pasta, rice, legumes, fruits). Eating meat with plant foods will also help the body use more of the non-haem iron by up to four times. Examples of iron-rich meals include meat and vegetable stir-fry, a meat sauce with pasta and vegetables, or a lean beef salad sandwich.
  • Keep Your Meals Tannin Free - It is better to drink tea and coffee between meals, rather than with your meals. The tannin in tea, and to lesser extent coffee, reduces the amount of iron we can use from food.
  • Beware of Dieting - Studies show girls and women on low calorie diets do not get their daily iron requirements. Remember, lean beef and lamb are relatively low in calories yet high in iron and can be included in any weight reducing diet.
  • Extra Iron for Exercise - You need extra iron if you exercise strenuously and often. Have your iron levels checked regularly and ensure your diet is balanced and varied, including lots of foods high in haem iron. Iron-rich foods include beef, lamb, kidneys and liver.
  • Don't Rely on Supplements - The iron in pills or supplements and fortified foods such as breakfast cereal is poorly absorbed. Don’t rely on these for your total daily iron needs, and only use supplements if advised by your doctor.
  • Choose from the Four Main Food Groups - A sure way to improve your iron intake is to eat a balanced and healthy diet. Each day you should eat a variety of foods from the main foods groups: breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables, dairy products and of course some red meat, fish, chicken or a protein alternative (eg beans, lentils, eggs or tofu).
  • Be Extra Iron Smart if You're at Risk - Infants, girls and women who have periods, teenagers, pregnant and nursing mothers, sports people, vegetarians and the elderly are most at risk of being iron deficient. Learn how to cook appealing, iron-rich dishes to suit you and your family. Look for ideas on quick and easy beef and lamb dishes. You’ll find recipe cards in supermarkets and butchers’ shops, or visit our website: www.recipes.co.nz.

Meal Ideas

To help you with your iron intake, here are some iron-rich meal ideas for everyone:


  • Bowl of iron-fortified cereal topped with vitamin C-rich fruit, such as kiwifruit, tamarillos, melon or strawberries
  • Wholemeal toast with a glass or fruit juice


  • Filled roll with lean beef and salad
  • Sandwich of beef, liver pate, peanut butter or sardines with tomato, chopped carrot, celery and capsicum
  • Pita bread filled with lean beef, lamb or tuna with salad
  • Jacket potato filled with chilli or baked beans, topped with cheese and served with salad


  • Lean beef or lamb casserole with potatoes and vegetables
  • Meatballs and sauce with pasta and vegetables
  • Lean beef or lamb stir-fry with vegetables and rice or noodles
  • Boil-up with brisket, kumara, potato and vegetables
  • Lean beef mince and red kidney beans, wrapped in tortilla or pita bread with salad and salsa
  • Meat or fish-topped pizza with salad

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