Healthy eating habits/Iron for Optimal Health & Energy

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Eating a healthy balanced diet is the best way to maintain your energy levels, in particular eating foods containing iron. The following page provides information about iron and why it is important for energy and health.

What is Iron?

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Why do we need it?

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Blood cells

Iron is a nutrient that we all need in small amounts, but we still do need it for our body to function normally. It is a mineral and has many roles in the body.

Its roles are:

  • Oxygen transport around the body:

-Iron is part of a protein in your red blood cells, which carries oxygen in the bloodstream to your cells, so they can function properly.

  • Providing oxygen to muscles:

-Iron is also part of another protein found in muscles, which makes oxygen available for your muscles, so they can use energy and work.

  • Energy production:

-Iron is involved in a body process that converts the nutrients from the food we eat to energy that can be used. *

  • Immune function:

-Iron also has a role in protecting your body against infections and colds. [1]

Types of Iron

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Haem Iron

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Beef Steaks

Where is it found: only animal foods including meat, poultry and fish

How much is absorbed by your body: 25%

-It is absorbed 50% better than Non-Haem

Non-Haem Iron

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Green Vegetables

Where is it found: both in animal and plant based foods such as green vegetables and nuts

How much is absorbed by your body: 17%

-Vegetarians only consume this type

-Even though it is not as well absorbed it is still a great source [1]

How much do you need a day?

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The National Health and Research Council recommends: [2]


Age Group Age (years) Recommended Amount Per Day
Teens 14-18 15mg
Adults 19-50 18mg
Older Adults 51-70+ 8mg


Age Group Age (years) Recommended Amount Per Day
Teens 14-18 11mg
Adults 19-50 8mg
Older Adults 51-70+ 8mg

Good food sources

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Haem Sources

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Food Serving Amount Iron (mg)
Chicken Liver, Cooked 100g 11
Oysters 6 small (36g) 6
Kangaroo, Cooked 100g 4
Beef, Cooked 100g 3
Lamb, Cooked 100g 2
Sardines, Canned 100g 2

Non-Haem Sources

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Food Serving Amount Iron (mg)
Milo 1 tablespoon 6
Spinach, Cooked 1 cup 6
Lentils, Cooked 1 cup 6
Tofu, Firm 1 cup 6
Dried Apricots 3 regular pieces 5
Quinoa, Cooked 1 cup 5
Pumpkin seeds 2 tablespoons 4
Weetbix 2 biscuits 3
White bread, with added Iron 1 slice 3
Cashews 1 handful (30g) 2
Baked Beans 220g can 2
Egg 1 large (~60g) 1
Peanut Butter 2 tablespoons 1

Ways to add more Iron in your diet

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At breakfast time:

-Choose breakfast cereals that have added iron

How to tell: Iron will be in the ingredients list and/or the nutrition panel

Examples: Weetbix, Special K and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes [4]

-Choose bread with added Iron

Examples: Wonderwhite Wholemeal and White [5]

-Eggs and baked beans are also a good way to add Iron to your diet

Morning and afternoon tea:

-snack on nuts, seeds and dried fruit such as cashews, almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds and dried apricot


-Choose iron rich foods to go into sandwiches such as meat, peanut butter and spinach


-Include meat and fish dishes

-Try adding quinoa as a side

-Add a side of green vegetables

-Try including tofu or legumes [6]

Factors affecting absorption

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Orange juice
Helps Absorption Inhibits Absorption
-Vitamin C (found in oranges, strawberries, capsicum)

-MFP Factor: protein found in Meat, Fish, Poultry, promotes non haem absorption

-Phytates (found in legumes, whole grains)

-Soy products (found in soy sauce, tofu)

-Calcium (found in milk)

-Tannins (found in tea, coffee, red wine)


What happens when you have not enough/too much

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Not Enough Too Much



-pale skin

-shortness of breath






-joint pain


Who might not be getting enough

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  • Females

Females who are at a childbearing age and are menstruating are at a higher risk of not getting enough iron, due to iron losses from the blood loss each month via menstruation.

  • Athletes

Athletes are at risk because to perform at their best, they need increased levels of oxygen transport to their muscles and hence need more iron. Iron is also lost through sweat.

  • Vegetarians

Vegetarians are at risk because they only consume the less absorbed non-haem iron. [7]

Further Resources

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  • To find an Accredited Practicing Dietitian for further dietary questions visit:

  • For more easy information on iron visit:

  • To find out how much iron is in your food search the FSANZ NUTTAB database:

  • To find out more about recommended intakes visit:


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  1. a b c d Whitney, E., Rolfes, SR, Crowe, T., Cameron-Smith, D. & Walsh, A. (2011). Understanding Nutrition: Australia and New Zealand Edition. South Melbourne, Australia: Cengage Learning Australia.
  2. National Health and Research Council (NHMRC). (2013). Nutrient Reference Values For Australia and New Zealand. Retrieved from
  3. a b Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). (2010). NUTTAB 2010. Retrieved from
  4. Coles. (2014). Breakfast Cereal. Retrieved from
  5. Coles. (2014). Bread. Retrieved from
  6. Women and Children’s Hospital. (2010). All About Iron in Food. Retrieved from
  7. Brown, J. E. (2011). Nutrition through the life cycle (4th Edition). Belmont, CA, Wadsworth, CENGAGE Learning.