Introducing Iron

An Important Role in the Body

Back to Overview

Feeling tired? No energy? Maybe you are not getting enough iron in your diet! Iron is essential for the formation of haemoglobin in red blood cells; haemoglobin binds oxygen and transports it around the body. Iron also serves as a cofactor to enzymes in oxidation/reduction reactions (i.e., accepts or donates electrons). These reactions are vital to cells’ energy metabolism. Iron requirements fluctuate throughout the life course. Iron needs increase during menstruation, pregnancy, and periods of rapid growth such as early childhood and adolescence.

The Primary Sources of Iron

Iron can be found in red meats, fish, poultry, shellfish, eggs, legumes, grains, and dried fruits.

Bioavailability of Iron

Iron is carefully regulated by the body and absorption rates vary by the size of a person’s iron stores. The more iron-deficient a person is, the better the absorption rates. Conversely, in healthy individuals iron absorption shuts down when iron stores have been maximized. Many factors affect the absorption of iron. Heme iron from animal-source foods is absorbed, on average, twice as well as inorganic iron (from plant sources). The absorption rates for inorganic iron are also influenced by the meal composition and the solubility of the iron form.

Factors that enhance absorption of inorganic iron are vitamin C and animal protein. Factors that inhibit inorganic iron absorption include phytates (found in grains), polyphenols (found in teas and red wine), vegetable protein, and calcium (which also affects the absorption of heme iron). Food processing techniques to reduce the phytate content of plant-based foods, such as thermal processing, milling, soaking, fermentation, and germination, improve the bioavailability of inorganic iron from these foods.

Risks Related to Inadequate Intake of Iron

A lack of dietary iron depletes iron stores in the liver, spleen and bone marrow. Severe depletion or exhaustion of iron stores can lead to iron deficiency anemia. Certain life-stages require greater iron intake and if these are not met, the risk for iron deficiency is increased. For example, pregnancy demands additional iron to support the added blood volume, growth of the fetus and blood loss during childbirth. Infants and young children need extra iron to support their rapid growth and brain development. Because breast milk is low in iron, infants exclusively fed breastmilk may also be at risk for iron deficiency. Similarly, the rapid growth of adolescence also demands extra iron.

Due to iron’s role in energy metabolism, depletion of body iron stores may result in reductions of the available energy in the cell. The physical signs of iron deficiency include fatigue, weakness, headaches, apathy, susceptibility to infections, and poor resistance to cold temperatures.

Find more information on vitamins and micronutrient deficiencies though our partner, Vitamin Angels or download our complete vitamin and mineral guide here.

Incorporate iron into your next evening meal by trying the delicious recipe below…

Fillet Steak with Peppercorn Sauce*


175 g fillet steak , ideally 3-4cm thick
olive oil
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
Peppercorn Sauce (enough sauce for 2 steaks)
1 teaspoon white peppercorns
40 ml brandy
125 ml dry white wine
100 ml concentrated organic beef stock
30 ml double cream
1 teaspoon unsalted butter


Place a medium frying pan over a high heat to warm-up. Season the steak with sea salt and drizzle with a little oil, then rub all over. Place the steak into the hot pan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side for medium-rare, searing it on its edges for an even crust. If you prefer your steak medium (5 to 6 minutes) or well done (8 to 10 minutes), adjust the cooking time to your liking. Remove the steak to a plate, reserving the pan of juices. Top the steak with the butter, cover with tin foil, then leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, crush the peppercorns in a pestle and mortar, then sieve and remove the powder, leaving the chunker bits to cook with. Add the chunky white peppercorns to the pan of meat juices and cook over a low heat for 30 seconds. Pour in the brandy to deglaze the pan, then carefully tilt the pan to catch the flame (or light with a match) and let it flambé for 30 seconds – stand back! When the flames subside, add the wine, turn the heat up to high and reduce by half, then add the beef stock and continue cooking for 3 to 4 minutes, or until thick and delicious. Turn off the heat, stir in the cream, add the butter and any resting juices, and stir to combine. Serve the steak with a drizzle of peppercorn sauce.

*Adapted from Jamie Oliver recipes