Iron is an essential mineral that has several important roles in the body. For example, it helps make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. A lack of iron can lead to iron deficiency (anemia).

Good sources of iron

Good sources of iron include:

  • liver
  • meat
  • beans
  • nuts
  • dried fruit, such as dried apricots
  • whole grains, such as brown rice
  • fortified breakfast cereals
  • soybean flour
  • most dark-green leafy vegetables, such as watercress and curly kale

Many people think that spinach is a good source of iron, but spinach also contains a substance that makes it harder for the body to absorb the iron from it.

Tea and coffee also contain a substance that can make it harder for the body to absorb iron. So cutting down on tea and coffee could help improve your iron levels.

Although liver is a good source of iron, do not eat it if you are pregnant. This is because it is also rich in vitamin A, large amounts of which can damage your unborn baby.

How much iron you need

The amount of iron you need is:

  • 8.7mg a day for men
  • 14.8mg a day for women

Most people should be able to get all the iron they need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you take iron supplements, do not take too much because this could be harmful.

Taking 17mg or less a day of iron supplements is unlikely to cause any harm. However, continue taking a higher dose if advised to by your GP.

Women who lose a lot of blood during their monthly period may need to take iron supplements. Speak to your GP or a registered dietitian for more advice.

Taking too much iron

The side effects of taking high doses of iron include:

  • constipation
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • stomach pain

Very high doses of iron can be fatal, particularly if taken by children, so always keep iron supplements out of the reach of children.

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