Iron is an essential mineral naturally found in a variety of foods, and has many important functions in the body including:

  • Building red blood cells
  • Carrying oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body
  • Helping the brain work at its best


Beef Contains Heme Iron

There are two types of iron in food – heme and non-heme. Our bodies absorb heme iron best. Heme iron is found in animal foods like beef, fish and poultry while plant foods like tofu, dried fruit, legumes, and enriched grain products contain only non-heme iron. Since non-heme iron is not well absorbed, people that avoid meat (e.g. vegetarians) need almost twice as much iron as people who don’t.

Heme iron has another benefit – the Meat Factor: Eating a food containing heme iron, like beef, is not only a good way to ensure your iron will be well absorbed, but the heme iron in the animal-based food will help increase the absorption of non-heme iron in the plant based food when eaten together. In fact, adding some meat to a plant-based meal increases the absorption of non-heme iron by 150% compared to just a vegetarian version of the dish. Try combining foods: add a small amount of beef to a black bean burrito, for example, to get the most iron bang for your buck.

As a heme source of iron, beef is a winner. In fact, beef is more iron-rich than many other animal-based foods. See the table below for how beef compares to other proteins such as chicken and salmon.


Iron Deficiency – A Serious Matter

Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. In fact, in Canada, the government considers iron a nutrient of concern, and for this reason iron is one of 3 nutrients that must be listed on every Nutrition Facts table (alongside potassium and calcium).

Without enough iron in your diet you may feel tired, cold and irritable, and you may look pale. You may also be at risk for iron deficiency which causes serious metabolic disturbances and problems with growth and development.

How much iron do we need?

  • Iron requirements vary throughout the lifecycle but is essential at all stages of life
  • Iron needs are greatest during periods of growth (e.g. infancy and teen years) and for women during childbearing years
  • Iron is critical for brain development which is why babies need almost 40% more iron than a full-grown man!

Beef is an efficient (and tasty) way toward getting the iron your body requires

It’s a fact: beef is one of the best natural sources of heme iron – the type of iron our bodies can use most efficiently. A 100g serving of cooked beef provides 3.5 mg of iron, which is equivalent to 19% of your Daily Value (DV). If you belong to one of the higher-iron need groups, then your iron-source is mission critical.

Swapping chicken or fish for beef? If you need iron, you may be compromising your ability to get the iron you need.

Health Canada, Canadian Nutrient File, 2015. Food codes: 3053 (fish, salmon, sockeye (red), baked or broiled), 3377 (beans, black, mature seeds, boiled), 842 (chicken, broiler, breast, meat, roasted), 6172 (beef, composite cuts, steak/roast, lean and fat, cooked. Nutrient amounts rounded as per 2016 CFIA labelling rounding rules. % Daily Values calculated based on Health Canada’s 2016 Nutrition Labelling – Table of Daily Values.

Want to know more nutritions fact about IRON? Check out the ThinkBeef Blog, just CLICK!

Click here for more helpful iron resources to order:

Iron for Infants

Iron for Teen Girls

Iron for Life