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Red Meat and Minerals


Red meat is an important dietary source of minerals, in particular iron and zinc.


Iron is essential for good health and physical well-being. Too little iron in the body can lead to low iron stores and iron deficiency known as anaemia: symptoms include tiredness, poor appetite, irritability and a lower attention span. If you are constantly tired or think you may have iron deficiency anaemia, please consult your doctor.

Red meat contributes approximately 17% of total iron intake in the UK which is present in the more readily absorbed haem form of iron. In the UK, almost 50% of women of child-bearing age have low iron intakes. A number of studies have confirmed the positive effect of including red meat in the diet, on intakes of dietary iron.1, 2

A survey by online resource (2010) found that almost half of women believed spinach to be the best source of iron. In fact, you would need to eat a very large amount of spinach to get the same amount of iron as there is available in a 4oz (100g) sirloin steak.

Haem iron is the more easily absorbed form of iron found in red meat and animal tissues while non-haem iron, which is less easily absorbed, is found in vegetables and cereals. Meat is a useful way of boosting iron intake as it also enhances the absorption of iron from plant foods.

Top tips for boosting iron intake:

  • Use extra-lean mince to make lasagne, Spaghetti Bolognese, meatballs, cottage pie and homemade burgers. A dinner of Spaghetti Bolognese with whole-wheat pasta will provide 6.6mg iron – that’s 47% of the RNI – while a burger in a wholemeal bap with salad provides 5.4mg of iron and a plate of cottage pie contains 3.7mg iron.

  • Choose red meat – the darker the flesh, the higher the iron content. This means beef contains more iron than lamb and pork. Leg meat in poultry is generally higher in iron than breast meat, which in turn contains more than most types of salmon.

  • Start the day with a bowl of breakfast cereal and semi-skimmed milk. Many breakfast cereals are fortified with iron so that a standard bowl provides 6mg of iron. This iron isn’t as well absorbed as the iron in meat so add a vitamin C-rich fruit such as blackcurrants or strawberries or a glass of fruit juice to help the body to absorb this iron.


Low intakes of zinc are also a concern for some population groups in the UK, such as young girls, children and infants. Zinc is a trace element that has several important functions: it helps make new cells and enzymes, helps our bodies process carbohydrate, fat and protein in food and also helps with the healing of wounds. Red meat contains substantial amounts of zinc which, similar to iron, is available in a form that is readily absorbed by the body.

 1 Cosgrove M et al. British Journal of Nutrition, 2005;93:933-942.

2 Gibson S & Ashwell M. Public Health Nutrition, 2002; 6(4):341-350.