While the body can store iron, it cannot make it. You need to get iron from food. So, if you’ve been diagnosed with iron deficiency, your doctor may suggest you eat more iron-rich foods.
The best source of iron is animal-based foods, especially red meat and offal (such as liver). Chicken, duck, pork, turkey and fish also have iron.
Iron is also found in many plant-based foods such as:
- green vegetables, for example spinach, silverbeet and broccoli
- lentils and beans
- nuts and seeds
- grains, for example whole wheat, brown rice and fortified breakfast cereals
- dried fruit.
The iron in animal-based foods is easier to absorb than the iron in plant-based foods. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you need to take extra care with your diet to get enough iron.
How to improve iron absorption from food
How you prepare food and what types of foods you eat together, can affect how much iron you absorb.
For example, foods rich in vitamin C such as oranges, tomatoes, berries, kiwi fruit and capsicum, can help you absorb more iron if you eat them at the same time as iron-rich foods. You could add them raw to your plate, or drink orange juice with your meal, or take a vitamin C supplement.
Coffee, tea and wine can reduce iron absorption. So can calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese and tinned salmon, as well as calcium tablets. If you can, have these between meals, rather than with your meal.
Last reviewed: March 2017