Choose Your Food Wisely

Choose your food wisely to maintain your iron levels 

If you are feeling extremely tired or have any of the other symptoms of iron deficiency, it is important to consider whether your diet contains enough iron. Eating more iron-rich foods is a simple way to boost your iron levels and reduce fatigue.

Normally you can get all the iron that your body needs from a healthy, balanced diet.1 However, sometimes you might not eat enough iron-rich foods, even with an otherwise healthy diet. This is especially true for vegetarians and vegans who are more at risk of iron deficiency.2 Iron that comes from plant sources, which is known as non-haem iron, is less well absorbed by your body than iron from animal sources.  How well you absorb iron from plant sources is also more affected by other food and drink that you consume around the same time.1 The table below shows examples of iron-rich foods.

It is also possible that your diet met your body’s iron needs in the past, but that recently your circumstances have changed and now your current iron intake cannot meet the increased demands. This can happen, for example, when you are pregnant or if you have had surgery. You could now think about increasing the iron in your diet so that your iron levels are in balance again. 

There is a whole range of iron-rich foods that you can eat more of to help boost your iron levels. Both meat foods containing haem iron3 and vitamin C help with the absorption of non-haem iron. Try to eat iron-rich foods more regularly, think about combining haem and non-haem sources in the same meal (for example red meat and spinach), or add a source of vitamin C (for example, a glass of orange juice) to increase your iron intake.

Iron Sources (Animal-Based)4 Iron Sources (Plant-Based)5
Oysters Soy products
Clams Lentils
Red meat e.g. Beef Beans
Liver Tofu
Turkey or chicken giblets Spinach
Fish Molasses
  Whole-wheat bread
  Dried fruit (e.g. dried apricots, prunes and raisins)
  Iron-enriched cereals and grains (see the packaging for details of iron content)4
Foods that help Iron Absorption Foods that inhibit Iron Absorption
Meat/ sources of haem iron3 Tea and herbal infusions in general9
Vitamin C e.g. citrus fruits8 Coffee7
  Dairy products7

*Calcium, such as that found in milk and dairy products can inhibit iron absorption from both animal-based and plant-based iron sources, unlike the other inhibitors that only affect the absorption of non-haem iron.1

If you are pregnant, or trying to become pregnant, it is important to ask your doctor or midwife about the best iron-rich foods for you to eat, since some foods, such as liver 8 or certain types of fish,9 should be avoided during pregnancy.

Similarly, if you have any allergies or dietary restrictions, for example if you have coeliac disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), or have had gastric surgery, speak to your doctor or nutritionist about which foods to eat to increase your iron intake. Your doctor may suggest that you need supplemental sources of iron such as tablets or intravenous iron to get your iron up to within a healthy range. This may also be true if you have iron deficiency anaemia, where diet alone is usually not enough to replace the iron lost.6 Once the iron levels in your body have recovered, eating an iron-rich diet is a good way to keep your iron levels normal.