Iron is an essential mineral. 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 and most dark green leafy vegetables (such as watercress and curly kale).

Some people think that spinach is a good source of iron, but spinach contains a substance that makes it harder for the body to absorb the iron from it. Similarly, tea and coffee also contain a substance that can bind with iron making it harder for the body to absorb it and so cutting down on tea and coffee could help to improve iron levels.

Although liver is a good source of iron, if you're pregnant you should avoid eating it because of the amount of vitamin A it contains.

How much do I need?

You should be able to get all the iron you need from your daily diet. This is:

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

Eating food containing lots of vitamin C at the same time as you eat food containing iron from non-meat sources might help the body absorb the iron. So you could have fruit juice or fruit with your fortified breakfast cereal, or vegetables with your beans, nuts or rice.

Women who lose a lot of blood during their monthly period may need to think about taking iron supplements. Contact your GP or a state-registered dietitian for more advice.

What does it do?

Iron has a number of important roles in the body. For example it helps make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body.

What happens if I take too much?

The side effects of taking high doses of iron include constipation, nausea, vomiting and stomach pain.

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

What is our advice?

Most people should be able to get all the iron they need by eating a varied and balanced diet. But if you decide to take iron supplements it's a good idea not to take too much because this could be harmful.

Taking 17 mg or less of iron supplements a day is unlikely to cause any harm. But do continue taking a higher dose if this is under medical advice.