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The Healthy Food Guide team believe that making small diet and lifestyle changes brings the best long-term gains. We look at the science behind the headlines and promote a balanced way of eating.

Cutting back on red meat? Make sure you don’t miss out on iron. Dietitian Jennifer Low shows you how to make up the shortfall from plant-based options.

The latest National Diet & Nutrition Survey, published in 2016, revealed that 48% of girls and 27% of women had low iron intakes (below the national dietary reference intake), putting them at risk of iron deficiency anaemia. You may be especially at risk of falling into these groups if you’re vegetarian or vegan, or have decided to cut back drastically on meat or fish – albeit for sensible health reasons.

Why we need it
Iron is important for growth and repair, brain and immune function, normal energy levels and transport of oxygen around the body. Women need 14.8mg and men 8.7mg a day.

Are non-meat sources as good?
Iron comes in two forms, depending on its source:
-HAEM IRON is found in meat and is well absorbed by the body.
-NON-HAEM iron is found in plant foods, such as green leafy veg, pulses and dried fruits, and is not as well absorbed. This means you will need to aid the absorption of this vital mineral by taking the following steps:

-Eating foods with vitamin C alongside foods that contain iron, for example oranges, strawberries or raspberries with iron-fortified breakfast cereals.
-Avoid drinking tea with iron-containing foods, as a cuppa contains polyphenols (antioxidants that can inhibit the absorption of iron).

TIPS
Snack on nuts Cashews, hazelnuts, pine nuts and sesame seeds are more examples of great plant-based foods that provide iron.
See your GP for a blood test if you feel uncharacteristically tired, short of breath, look pale or have heart palpitations. These can all be symptoms of iron-deficiency anaemia.

Fresh vegetables (all values per 80g serving, or one of your five-a-day)
Sprouts, boiled
0.4mg

Asparagus, boiled
0.5mg

Leeks, steamed
0.6mg

Beetroot, raw
0.8mg

Broccoli, boiled
0.8mg

Spinach, steamed
1.4mg

Curly kale, steamed
1.6mg

Spinach, raw
1.7mg

Canned vegetables, pulses and beans (all values per 200g portion, or one of your five-a-day)
Sweetcorn
1mg

Peas
1.5mg

Baked beans
2.8mg

Chickpeas
3mg

Dried fruits (all values per 30g serving, or one of your five-a-day)
Prunes
0.8mg

Raisins
1.1mg

Figs
1.3mg

Apricots
2.7mg