Many people don’t get enough iron and it’s vital to our health. As well as helping the transport of oxygen around the body in haemoglobin, iron is a co-factor supporting the work of enzymes to make hormones, amino acids, neurotransmitters and collagen (for healthy skin and bones). Even a slight reduction in the amount we need can interfere with motivation and energy, often mistaken for apathy and or being less mentally alert.

Iron rich foods

There are two types of iron – Haem iron-found in animal products (meats, poultry, fish) and Non-haem iron (found mostly in plant foods).

Including these foods in your diet will improve your levels:

  • Dark leafy green vegetables i.e. parsley, spinach
  • Red meat, organ meats, oysters, clams, poultry
  • Pine nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
  • Legumes, beans, lentils, soybeans
  • Apricots, raisins

The best source of iron is liver, 100g can provide 6mg of iron! A cup of lentils will provide around 6mg, but this is non-haem iron so not as easily absorbed.  The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of iron in the UK is 8.7mg a day for men and 14.8mg a day for women. 

Iron stores – Ferritin

As we eat more, surplus iron is stored in the protein ferritin, primarily in the liver but also in the bone marrow and spleen.  Ferritin is what gets measured when you have a blood test at the GP.

Vegetarians typically have lower ferritin levels, and need to concentrate on sources of iron rich foods, especially menstruating women as iron losses can be significant with a heavy bleed each month. However, it’s easy to get enough iron on a vegetarian diet by regularly eating plant based sources such as soy beans, tofu, lentils, kidney beans, seeds, dried fruits and black strap molasses.

Should I take an iron supplement?

It’s not advised to supplement with iron without testing your levels first. This is because if we have too much iron floating around the body it can become a pro-oxidant, causing damage to cells. Some people can benefit from taking supplements to enhance their diet, but speak to a health professional before taking iron supplements.

Iron from supplements is less well absorbed than from food, so eating an iron rich diet is preferable.


How can I improve dietary iron absorption?

Firstly it’s important to heal any inflammation in the gut. Cells in the gut wall control iron absorption by holding iron temporarily as the body assesses whether the diet has brought enough iron in that day or not. These cells are typically shed every 2-3 days and excreted, but if there is inflammation, the cells can be damaged and absorption impaired.

Avoid wheat bran with your iron rich foods, because this can impair absorption. Avoid drinking tea before or after meals because the tannin can interfere with iron absorption. 


Hi I'm Anna Mapson, registered Nutritionist (mBANT, CNHC). I specialise in all things ‘digestive health’ and I help people with their IBS symptoms.

I can help you to:

  • track your symptoms in a really simple but meaningful way to understand them better
  • rebalance your digestive system
  • access group support to make long lasting changes to your digestive health

“Anna is amazing! I feel totally transformed"

To find more about out how I work and how I’ve helped people just like you, see my IBS Diet support page

All Disease Begins In The Gut

Over 2000 years ago Hippocrates said diseases begin in the gut, and it feels like we are starting to come back round to this way of thinking again.  Our gut microbiome is critical to our overall health. The different gut bacteria living in our digestive tracts play a...

8 Less Obvious Tips For Weight Loss

Are you trying to lose weight? You might be focusing on how to get the right balance of carbs and proteins, the importance of exercise and sustaining dietary change. But here are some less obvious tips for weight loss you may not have thought of: 1. Optimise your gut...

Is it bad to eat late at night?

Eating late at night isn’t good for our health, sorry if you’re someone who loves a snack at bedtime. There are a whole host of reasons why we shouldn’t eat late in the evening. Read to the end to see my recommendations on timings for food. So...

Your stomach acid – too high or too low?

Ever wondered why some people get affected by stomach bugs more than others? It might be exposure to the germs that cause us to get ill, or it could be down to the ability of the body to fight off infection. Our stomach acid is one of the first lines of defence...

How to improve your gut microbiome

Do you know how to improve your gut microbiome?  Why is gut health important? If the collection of microbes inside our gut (called a microbiome) doesn't function properly, then nothing else in our body works well. The thyroid, hormones, immune system are all linked to...

What is the FODMAP diet?

You might have heard of a FODMAP diet to help gut health, but what does it mean, who should use it and how does it work?? Let me explain a bit more about it.   What does FODMAP stand for?   The term stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides,...

Improve Your Gut Health - Beat Bloating