Iron Awareness

According to the last national nutrition survey, low iron levels were evident in one in 14 adult women over 15 years old with over a third of teenage girls aged 15-18 years not achieving their daily iron requirements.

With the 4th World Iron Awareness Week commencing on Monday 1st May 2017, Countdown is supporting Beef + Lamb New Zealand to raise awareness on the importance of dietary iron, recognising the signs of low iron and what you can do about it.


  • Infants 0-6 months: 0.2mg
  • Infants 7-12 months: 11mg
  • Children 1-13 years: 8-10mg
  • Boys 14-18 years: 11mg
  • Girls 14-18 years: 15mg
  • Women 19-50 years: 18mg
  • Pregnant Women: 27mg
  • Breastfeeding Women: 9-10mg
  • Women over 50 years: 8mg
  • Men over 19 years: 8mg


There are two types of iron foods to be aware of. Firstly, haem iron foods which the body absorbs more easily, with about a quarter being used. Secondly, non-haem iron foods where about 5% of non-haem iron is absorbed. 

Haem iron foods: beef, lamb, liver, kidney, pork, poultry, seafood.

Non-haem iron foods: bread, breakfast cereals, beans and lentils, eggs, nuts, fruit and vegetables. 

Learn more about haem iron on the Beef + Lamb website.


The symptoms of iron deficiency are commonly associated with a ‘busy lifestyle’ or ‘a bug’. If you can tick any of the boxes you may be short of iron.

  • Feel tired or lethargic
  • Often irritable or grumpy
  • Suffer frequent infections
  • Feel the cold
  • Tire easily
  • Can’t concentrate


Fatigue, lethargy, frequent infections and reduced resistance to cold. It may surprise you that these commonplace symptoms are often caused by iron deficiency and can be easily avoided by increasing your iron intake. Follow these ten simple steps to make sure your daily intake is adequate:

  1. EAT LEAN MEAT REGULARLY FOR TOP IRON INTAKE- There are two types of iron in food: haem iron (found in meat and fish) and non-haem iron (found mainly in plants). Meat also contains some non-haem iron. The body absorbs the haem iron in meat much more efficiently than the non-haem iron in plant foods. For example 1/4 cup of cooked silverbeet contains 0.5mg of iron, but the body can only use about 5% of this. In comparison, 120g of cooked lean beef contains an average of 3.1mg of iron and the body absorbs around 25% of it. You would need to eat a massive 1kg of cooked silverbeet to get the same amount of iron provided by a serve of 120g of lean meat. This equates to a moderate serving of spaghetti bolognaise or a couple small lamb leg steaks.
  2. SEE RED- Red meats are richer in haem iron than white meat, poultry and fish, so enjoy lean beef and lamb 3-4 times per week for a top iron intake.
  3. GET PLENTY OF VITAMIN C- Vitamin C helps the body to use non-haem iron – the iron in plant foods. Include plenty of fruit and vegetables rich in vitamin C with your meals.
  4. EAT RED MEAT AND VEGETABLE TOGETHER- Eat a combination of red meat and plant foods (vegetables, pasta, rice, legumes, fruits). Eating meat with plant foods will also help the body use more of the non-haem iron by up to four times. Examples of iron-rich meals include meat and vegetable stir-fry, a meat sauce with pasta and vegetables, or a lean beef salad sandwich.
  5. KEEP YOUR MEALS TANNIN FREE- It is better to drink tea and coffee between meals, rather than with your meals. The tannin in tea, and to lesser extent coffee, reduces the amount of iron we can use from food.
  6. BEWARE DIETING- Studies show girls and women on low calorie diets do not get their daily iron requirements. Remember, lean beef and lamb are relatively low in calories yet high in iron and can be included in any weight reducing diet.
  7. EXTRA IRON FOR EXERCISE- You need extra iron if you exercise strenuously and often. Have your iron levels checked regularly and ensure your diet is balanced and varied, including lots of foods high in haem iron. Iron-rich foods include beef, lamb, kidneys and liver.
  8. DON'T RELY ON SUPPLEMENTS- The iron in pills or supplements and fortified foods such as breakfast cereal is poorly absorbed. Don’t rely on these for your total daily iron needs, and only use supplements if advised by your doctor.
  9. CHOOSE FROM THE FOUR MAIN FOOD GROUPS- A sure way to improve your iron intake is to eat a balanced and healthy diet. Each day you should eat a variety of foods from the main foods groups: breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables, dairy products and red meat, fish, chicken or a protein alternative (eg beans, lentils, eggs or tofu).
  10. BE EXTRA IRON SMART IF YOU'RE AT RISK- Infants, girls and women who have periods, teenagers, pregnant and nursing mothers, sports people, and the elderly are most at risk of being iron deficient. Check out our beef and lamb recipes for some inspiration on what to cook. You’ll find more inspiration at