Getting enough iron is key to performing at our best, ensuring we’re high in energy, thinking clearly and fighting off the winter bugs.
There are two types of iron in our food: haem and non-haem. Haem iron is the most readily absorbed and it’s found in animal foods. For meat and poultry, an easy guide is the redder the meat, the more iron it has, so venison has more iron than lamb, and chicken thigh has more iron than breast meat. Mussels, paua and pipi are also excellent sources of iron.
Non-haem iron is found in a variety of plant foods, such as dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, tofu, peas, legumes and wholegrain breads. This iron is much less readily absorbed, but this can be improved by eating vitamin C-rich foods at the same meal (see Shopping for vitamin C), and not having tea (including herbal teas), coffee or cocoa straight after a meal.
For adult women not having periods, and for men, the daily recommended dietary intake (RDI) for iron is 8mg; for women having periods it’s 18mg; and for pregnant women it’s 27mg. Toddlers actually have higher needs than men: infants need 7mg a day from around six months of age, and toddlers 9mg a day.
- Nearly one in five women aged 31—50 may be iron-deficient.
- Liver is a rich source of iron, but it’s also very high in vitamin A so small amounts are advised. For pregnant women, up to 100g a week is fine. To boost a toddler’s iron, cook and freeze a liver, then grate 1/2—1 teaspoon at a time into puréed vegetables or scrambled eggs.
Where to find iron