Iron - Information and Sources

Foods rich in iron fall into two main groups:

  • Animal sources - haem iron
  • Plant sources - non-haem iron

Animal sources tend to be better absorbed than plant sources, but try to consume a variety of foods from both sources

Animal sources

  • All red meat, game, liver, kidney, sausages, beef burgers
  • Egg yolk
  • Fish (not as high as red meat), but reasonable sources are pilchards and sardines, especially those canned in tomato sauce
  • Poultry (not as high as red meat)

Plant sources

  • Pulses – butter beans, broad beans, haricot (baked) beans, lentils, red kidney beans, chick peas
  • Green leafy vegetables e.g. brussel sprouts, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, etc – but a large portion needs to be eaten for a good iron intake
  • Flour products – bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes – wholemeal varieties are higher in iron
  • Breakfast cereals – many are fortified with iron, check the packet. Especially good are Branflakes, Weetabix, All-bran, Shredded wheat

The following contain some iron but in smaller amounts:

  • Dried fruits - apricots, figs, prunes
  • Dark chocolate, cocoa, liquorice, black treacle, gingerbread

Vitamin C and Iron
Vitamin C can help iron be more easily absorbed by the body, by changing it into a form more easily used. Therefore eat foods rich in vitamin C with foods rich in iron:

  • Fresh fruit - especially citrus fruit, strawberries, blackcurrants; including fruit juice and tinned fruit
  • Fruit squashes - vitamin C enriched cordials including orange squash, blackcurrant
  • Vegetables - especially tomatoes, green leafy vegetables and potatoes. Most vitamin C is found just under the skin so is lost in peeling. Some is also lost in cooking and letting food stand for a long while. To minimise losses avoid peeling where possible, prepare foods just before meal times and cook in minimal water with the lid on

Calcium and Iron
Calcium can inhibit iron absorption. It is recommended to consume calcium-rich foods, especially dairy products, away from iron rich foods. But, do not omit calcium-rich foods from your diet, as they are needed for healthy bones and teeth.

Bran and Iron
The use of raw bran is not recommended, as it contains phytate which 'binds' dietary iron, making it unavailable for absorption. You still need to have a good fibre intake, so continue to consume wholemeal products, fruit and green vegetables, which are high in iron.