The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends having 65g a day of red meat or 130g every second day because it is one of best sources of iron and zinc in the Australian diet. Therefore, eating beef and lamb 3 to 4 times a week helps to meet your iron and zinc needs.
Why does your body need iron?
- For energy - iron is essential for producing energy from food and contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.
- For your brain - iron carries oxygen to the brain and contributes to normal cognitive function i.e. ability to concentrate and learn.
- To fight infections - the immune system depends on iron to work properly.
- For normal growth and development - in babies, toddlers and children
There are two types of iron found in food
1. Haem-iron, which is well absorbed by the body and only found in beef, lamb, pork, chicken and fish. The redder the meat, the higher the amount of haem iron.
2. Non-haem iron, which is less well absorbed by the body. Plant-based foods such as iron-fortified breakfast cereals, dark green leafy vegetables, wholemeal pasta and bread, legumes, eggs and nuts contain only non-haem iron.
Tips for an iron-rich diet
- Try to include foods high in iron at meals.
- Eat beef and lamb 3-4 times a week; otherwise include plenty of other iron-rich foods every day.
- Maximise iron absorption from plant based foods such as breakfast cereal, legumes, nuts and spinach by combining them with either vitamin C-rich foods (e.g. oranges, strawberries, tomatoes) or foods containing haem iron (e.g. beef or lamb).
- Avoid drinking tea, coffee and cola drinks with your meals. Instead, enjoy these drinks between meals.
For more information, download the 'Are you getting enough Iron?' brochure
Could you be low in iron?
Around 20% of Australian women of childbearing age are low in iron and levels may be even higher in young women where estimates of up to a third have been reported.
The symptoms of iron deficiency are subtle and may be mistaken for a ‘busy lifestyle’. If you have any of these symptoms, you may be low in iron and should see your doctor to have your blood levels checked:
- Lack of energy
- Poor concentration
- Frequent infections
Foods to eat to increase your iron level
To boost the iron content of your diet, follow these four easy steps: 1. Try to include foods high in iron at meals. 2. Eat beef and lamb 3-4 times a week; otherwise include plenty of other iron-rich foods every day. 3. Combine vitamin C-rich foods (e.g. oranges, strawberries, tomatoes) or foods containing haem iron (e.g. beef or lamb) with plant-based foods like breakfast cereal, legumes, nuts and spinach to maximise iron absorption. 4. Avoid drinking tea, coffee and cola drinks with your meals. Instead, enjoy these drinks between meals.