The body is unable to manufacture iron therefore the body’s iron needs must be fully supplied by the food we eat. Although iron is widely distributed in foods, some sources are better absorbed than others. The best sources of iron are foods with a high iron content and are easily absorbed by the body.

Iron absorption is best (15-18%) from foods that contain haem iron. Red meat, seafood and poultry are the best sources of haem iron.

Iron absorption from foods that contain non-haem iron is much lower (<5%). Non-haem iron is predominantly found in plant foods such as cereals, vegetables, legumes and nuts. The absorption of non-haem iron can be improved by combining sources of haem iron with non-haem iron. Including vitamin C-rich foods with meals (e.g. juice or fruit with breakfast, capsicum in a stir-fry, salad or fruit with a sandwich) also enhances absorption of non-haem iron.

Some substances in food inhibit the absorption of iron. Excessive intakes of tea, coffee and bran have an inhibitory effect.

Major contributors of iron in the Australia diet are meat, fish, poultry, iron-enriched breakfast cereal and bread. Dried fruit, sweet corn, green leafy vegetables including broccoli, silver beet, spinach and Chinese green vegetables are other good sources of iron.

Source: AusNut 2007

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