Spotlight on Iron Deficiency

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Iron Deficiency

Iron is one of the most difficult nutrients to obtain an ample amount of, and health problems caused iron defficiency are very common. Understanding how to include iron in our diets and how to make it available for use in our bodies, is therefore very important.

Why Do I Need Iron?

The functions of iron in the body are well documented, and include the creation of haemoglobin, the protein that resides in red blood cells and allows oxygen to be obtained and delivered directly to tissues around the whole body. Low iron stores in the blood from insuffient dietary intake of the nutrient may result in iron-deficiency anaemia, making us lack energy, feel weak and be unable to cope with bursts of exercise.

Am I At Risk of Iron Deficiency Anaemia

As many as one in four women in the UK are thought to have low iron stores as a result of the blood lost during menstruation, putting them at risk of anaemia. The following are also particulary high risk:

  • Pregnant mothers: Extra iron is required during pregnancy to create the baby's red blood cells.
  • Developing children: It is important to start including iron rich food substances in a babies diet from around six months, as milk does not provide much iron and their iron stores only last this long.
  • Vegetarians and vegans: It is well known that meat, and particularly red meat, is a good provider of iron in the diet, so for those who eat a plant based diet, they need to ensure that they are getting their stores from elsewhere.

How Much Iron Do I Need?

The following table shows the Reference Nutrient Intakes (RNIs) for iron in men and women aged 19-50. The RNI is estimated to be a sufficient amount of iron for 97.4% of this group of people, although individual requirements are likely to vary so it is important to just use this as a rough guide.

Mineral Women (aged 19-50) Men (aged 19-50)
Iron Mg/d 14.8 8.7

How Can I Ensure I Get Enough Iron?

Spinach is notorious for being a great plant based provider of spinach, but there are other sources that you can easily include in your diet that provide you with more iron than a portion of spinach. Fish and particularly dark meats are also a good source. The table below lists some of the best common sources of iron to help you start incorporating the right food in your diet to give your iron stores a boost.

Food Item Portion Size Portion Size (Weight) Amount (g) % RNI
Sardines Pacific, canned in tomato sauce, drained solids with bone 3 sardines 114g 2.62 17.7
Beef top sirloin, steak, separable lean and fat, trimmed to 1/8" fat, all grades, raw 6 oz 170g 2.52 17
Lamb, leg, sirloin half, separable lean and fat, trimmed to 1/4" fat, choice, raw 1 steak 150g 2.42 16.4
Chickpeas/ Garbanzo beans cooked, boiled, without salt ½ cup 82g 2.37 16
Prunes dehydrated (low-moisture), uncooked ½ cup 66g 2.32 15.7
Soybeans ¼ can 64g 2.27 15.3
Kidney beans cooked, boiled, without salt ½ cup 88.5g 1.96 13.2
Oats ¼ cup 39g 1.84 12.4
Black beans mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt ½ cup 86g 1.81 12.2
Turkey,breast, meat and skin, raw 1 portion 150g 1.8 12.2
Lentils 4 tbsp 49.2g 1.73 11.7
Bread, Wholemeal 2 slices 64g 1.64 11.1
Salmon Atlantic, wild, cooked, dry heat 0.5 fillet 154g 1.58 10.7
Mackerel, Atlantic, cooked, dry heat 1 fillet 88g 1.59 10.7
Quinoa cooked 1 cup cooked 92.5g 1.38 9.3
Spinach A handful 50g 1.38 9.3
Sesame seeds 1tbsp 9g 1.36 9.2
Raisins ½ cup 72.5g 1.31 8.9
Peas – cooked ½ cup 80g 1.3 8.8
Chia Seeds 1 serving 15g 1.23 8.3
Potatoes white, flesh and skin, baked 1 medium 173g 1.16 7.8
Tuna white, canned in water, drained solids 1 small can 112g 1.11 7.5
Barley, pearled, cooked 1 serving 80g 1.09 7.4
Brussels sprouts, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 4 sprouts 84g 1.06 7.2
Pinto beans canned, drained solids ¼ can 69.25g 1.01 6.8
Cod 1 fillet 180g 0.92 6.2
Eggs whole, cooked, poached 1 large 50g 0.88 5.9
Mushrooms – white cooked 4 mushrooms 48g 0.88 5.9
Tofu MORI-NU, Tofu, silken, firm 1 portion 80g 0.84 5.7
Pasta Spaghetti, Wholewheat, Cooked 1 serving 75g 0.82 5.5
Sweet potatoes 1 medium 114g 0.8 5.4
Buckwheat 1/5 cup 34g 0.79 5.3


For more information, take a look at our Top 15 Iron Rich Foods Infographic