Meal Plans

A good way to increase your iron levels and feel more energetic is to eat more iron-rich foods. You may know that red meat contain lots of iron, but there’s a whole range of other foods that you can try too.

How much iron do I need in my diet each day?  

To work out whether you are getting enough iron in your diet, you need to first understand how much iron your body needs. This amount is different for men and women, and also varies with age. For example:

  • Teenagers require increased iron to support growth spurts, and
  • Women need more iron than men to replace iron that is lost through menstruation.

The recommended daily intake of iron for men and women of different ages is listed in the table beneath. You can estimate how much iron you have eaten by looking at the iron content that is listed on some food items.

Age1 Reference Iron Intake/MG Per Day1
11-18 Years 11.3
19-50 Years 8.7
50+ Years 8.7
11-18 Years 14.8
19-50 Years 14.8
50+ Years 8.7

Which foods contain the most iron?  

Iron can be found in food that comes from both animals and plants. Iron from animal sources is known as haem iron, whereas iron from plant sources is called non-haem iron.2 The different sources of iron are important in terms of nutrition. Your body cannot absorb iron from plant sources as well as the iron from animal sources.2

While the specific amount of iron you can absorb differs from food to food and person to person, a useful guide is that:

  • 14% to 18% of iron can be absorbed from mixed plant/meat diets, and
  • 5% to 12% of iron can be absorbed from vegetarian diets.2

These percentages are known as bioavailability rates.

How well you absorb iron from plant sources is also affected by other food and drink that you eat around the same time.1 Tea,3 coffee,4 and calcium-rich foods such as milk4 reduce the amount of iron you absorb from plant foods. Vitamin C-rich foods3 and meat sources of iron5 increase the absorption of iron from plant sources.

Given all the different factors affecting the intake of iron, it can be confusing to work out how much iron you are actually getting from your food. The table beneath is designed to help you with this. You can use the table to see both the amount of iron in one serving size and the predicted amount of iron you could expect to absorb from that serving for some of the most iron-rich foods.

Meat iron sources (Haem iron)

Food Item Iron (MG) Per 100g Iron (MG) per 1 Serving Serving Size in Grams Predicted Absorbable Iron (MG) Per 1 Serving Size
Blood sausage / Black pudding 6.4 6.4 100 0.96
Mussels (Shellfish) 6.72 5.71 85 0.86
Chicken liver, pan-fried 12.88 5.67 44 0.85
Oysters, canned 6.7 5.70 85 0.85
Beef liver, pan-fried 6.17 5.06 82 0.76
Beef, chuck, blade, lean only, braised 3.68 3.128 85 0.47
Tuna, light, canned in water 1.53 1.3 85 0.20
Turkey, dark meat, roasted 1.45 1.23 85 0.18

Plant iron sources (Non-haem iron)

Food Item Iron (MG) Per 100g Iron (MG) per 1 Serving Serving Size in Grams Predicted Absorbable Iron (MG) Per 1 Serving Size
Pumpkin seeds, dried 8.82 11.38 129 0.57
Soybeans, mature, boiled 5.14 8.84 172 0.44
Lentils, cooked, boiled 3.33 6.59 198 0.33
Spinach, cooked, boiled 3.57 6.426 180 0.32
Beans, kidney, mature, boiled 2.98 5.27 177 0.26
Raisins 2.59 4.27 165 0.21
Nuts e.g. raw cashew nuts 6.68 1.89 28.35 0.09
Tofu, fried 4.87 1.38 28.35 0.07

Based on values from the USDA nutritional database, with an estimated 15% absorption rate from meat iron sources and 5% absorption from plant iron sources.6

While this table only lists ten of the top iron-rich items, there is a huge variety of iron-rich meat and fish products, leafy vegetables, beans, nuts and pulses for you to choose from. In addition to the foods in the table, some foods such as cereals, pasta and flour can be fortified with iron and can greatly increase your iron intake. Check the packaging of the individual food item to find out if it has been fortified and how much iron it is adding to your diet. 

If you would like to track your iron intake, and estimate the amount of iron that you may have absorbed, you could use the myIronFriend app.

It is good to get a wide variety of iron sources in your diet, and also team these with vitamin C-rich sources of food. For example by having a glass of orange juice, or some vitamin C–rich vegetables, with your meal you may be able to increase your iron uptake. There are multiple recipe collections online which use iron-rich ingredients, catering for both meat-eating and vegetarian audiences. Actual amounts of iron that can be absorbed from these meals cannot be given, however looking at the iron values for the individual ingredients can allow you to predict how much iron you will gain. Why not start your own collection of iron-rich recipes?

Some ideas for iron rich recipes  

The links beneath are not under our control and we cannot be responsible for the contents of any linked site. Please speak to your doctor for specific nutritional advice.

Savoury and sweet iron-rich recipes

Vegetarian iron-rich recipe ideas