How much iron do adults need at each life stage?
Your nutritional needs change at each life stage, meaning you may need to adjust your diet to get the right amount of iron. Read on to find out how much iron you need according to your age, gender and pregnancy status.
How much iron a day?
The recommended dietary intakes listed below are compiled by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC):1
Aged 14-18: 15mg per day
Aged 19-50: 18mg per day
Aged 51+: 8mg per day
All age groups: 27mg per day
Aged 14-18: 15mg per day
Aged 19+: 8mg per day
The list below gives you an idea of the iron content of different foods.2,3
How much of the iron you eat do you actually absorb
People who eat a mixed western diet that includes foods from animal sources absorb about 18% of the iron they consume. Those on a vegetarian diet absorb about 10% of the iron they consume.1
Click here to read how vegetarians and vegans meet their iron needs
Dietary iron comes in two forms: haem and non-haem. Haem iron is present in animal foods and is absorbed more easily than non-haem iron, which is found in plant foods.4
Meat is a rich source of haem iron. The redder the meat, the higher the iron content.
Rich sources of non-haem iron include eggs, nuts, wholemeal pasta and bread, iron-fortified breakfast cereal, dried beans and lentils and leafy green vegetables. It is easier to absorb non-haem iron when it is eaten together with haem iron.4
Three causes of iron deficiency4
Iron deficiency is common among Australians. It can develop gradually, and the symptoms may be so mild you may not even know you have it at first.
Deficiency occurs when your iron needs are not met by the iron you absorb. These are three common circumstances leading to this imbalance between the iron you need and the iron you absorb:
- Excess iron loss, for example, through menstruation.
- Inadequate iron in your diet.
- Poor absorption of iron because of a medical condition, such as untreated coeliac disease.
Which adults are at most risk of iron deficiency?4
Those most at risk of iron deficiency in Australia may include:
- Adolescent girls and women of child-bearing age
- Pregnant women
- Vegans and vegetarians
- Blood donors
Your GP can help
See a GP if you are worried about iron deficiency. They may arrange a simple blood test to check your iron levels. If you are iron deficient, they may speak to you about eating a diet with enough iron to prevent iron deficiency. They may also recommend a therapeutic oral iron supplement, like Ferro-grad C®.
Check out Why Ferro-grad C® is a first-line treatment for iron deficiency
- NHRC. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. 2014
- Dietitians Australia. Nourishing Nutrients, Anaemia: my doctor says I need more iron.
- Nutrition Australia. Iron Fact Sheet (2013).
- Gastroenterological Society of Australia (GESA). October 2015.
FGC-2022-0020. February 2022