The Whakapapa of Iron

The importance of iron for us links back to Papatūānuku and Tānemahuta and their search for the uha tangata or the female element. Papatūānuku has a unique composition of rock, granite, dirt, mud, stone, sand and metals that make up her body. Lava, water and liquid rock or mud also moves fluidly around her, just as blood flows through us. The gases we know as sulphur, air and mist are her breath and the korowai of plants, forests, rivers, seas and inhabiting creatures all help sustain us. When Tānemahuta relentlessly searched for the well-hidden female element, he was directed to Kurawaka which lay at the entrance of the earth mother Papatūānuku. It was at Kurawaka, from the red iron rich clay, that the form of Hineahuone, the first wahine, was observed. Sculpted from the rich clay soil, fashioned with many gifted attributes from other Atua and finally brought to life through the breath of Tāne, Hineahuone came to existence and from their union all humankind descend from that time to this very day.

How do we get iron/rino and why do we need it?

As a mineral, iron is found in the dirt, clays, and soils that make up Papatūānuku. Plants extract iron from the soils, and animals that eat these plants absorb iron from plants. In turn, we eat these plants, animals and creatures and absorb iron from them. In our bodies, iron becomes an essential part of our blood and is needed to create red blood cells. It does this by binding to a protein called haemoglobin. The role haemoglobin plays is an important one, it gives our blood its red colour and is also responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. The oxygen carried in the blood is needed for many reasons and includes being used to release energy from the carbohydrates and fats we consume.

Ideally, if you are regularly getting enough iron from your kai, you should feel full of energy, be free from sicknesses or bugs and be mentally sharp too.

On the flip side of this, people who are low in iron are often constantly tired, get infections or sick easily, are grumpy or irritable. These are very common complaints echoed in modern life and it is easy to overlook iron as an important part of staying well. In Aotearoa we have high rates of people who are low and deficient in iron. Our pēpī tamariki, kōtiro, wahine and kaumātua all have greater needs for iron. If you are an athlete, are regularly physically active or are a vegetarian, you are also at a higher risk of becoming low in iron.

In order to stay iron rich we need to eat a variety of kai and make sure that we are keeping our iron stores topped up every day.

Of these kai above, some provide a lot more iron than others. Kai that is listed under Tāne and Tangaroa have far more iron and is iron that is more easily used by our bodies. This type of iron is called haem iron. The second type of iron is called non-haem iron. Non haem iron is found in kai that fall into Haumia, Rongo and Ngā Momo Kai Ano in the table above. These are all still good sources of iron but this type of iron is much harder for our body to access and use.

So, to increase your absorption and to get more iron for your buck, keep these key tips in mind:

1. It is best to combine the types of foods you eat in a meal. For example, eating kai like mīti, kaimoana, heihei in combination with huawhenua or huarākau will increase the amount of iron and goodness you absorb from your kai.
2. Eat iron rich kai with Vitamin C; tomatoes, oranges and kiwifruit are a huge help too. Sometimes we do this naturally with our kai because it tastes good!
3. Keep your meals and drinks separate. Try to wait for about an hour or until your kai is digested to drink tea or coffee. The tannins in tea and coffee make it harder for the iron in our kai to be absorbed and used.

Here are some simple examples of meals that would increase the amount of goodness you can use from you kai:


• Smoothie with oats, spinach or kale, and fruit such as kiwifruit or berries.
• Eggs with tomato, ham, capsicum and spinach
• Breakfast cereal or toast with fruit or vegetables

Kai o te rānui

• Baked beans on toast or a baked potato with spinach or an orange afterwards
• Sandwich or roll with a meat or fish, lettuce, tomatoes, carrot or salad
• Leftover miti, huawhenua with salad and a kiwifruit

Kai o te pō

 Boil up with brisket, kūmara, watercress or pūhā
• Steamed kūtai, tomato based sauce, pasta and broccoli
• Mince with kidney or chilli beans, tomato based sauce, salad and a tortilla or wrap
• Stir-fry with heihei and huawhenua
• Baked or steamed ika with huawhenua and roasted kūmara
• Lamb and vegetable stew with brown rice or kūmara

It is clear to see that right from the beginning of creation through to today, iron continues to play a vital role in our existence and day to day ability to function optimally. It is important that we continue to acknowledge the combined efforts of the Atua to create Hineahuone and the creation of life. By consuming iron rich kai that is only one separation away from Atua we are able to transport oxygen through our bodies; we are able to grow, flourish and sustain new life too.

So your homework from here is to ask yourself

• Kua whiwhi ki tāu? Are you getting enough?
• Are your pēpī, tamariki and whānau getting enough iron?
• What iron rich kai do you regularly consume?
• How can you increase the amount of iron you get from your kai?

To get you started with iron rich meals and recipes jump over to the recipes section of our website or order a copy of Ngā Mīti.

For more information about iron check out

Nā Jessica Meads



Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal. ‘First peoples in Māori tradition – Tāne, Hineahuone and Hine’, Te Ara- the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, updated 22-Sep-12. Retrieved April, 2016 from -maori-tradition/page2

The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Limited, & Ministry of Health. The concise New Zealand Food Composition Tables (2014) 11th edition. Retrieved April, 2016 from

Toi Tangata, & Heart Foundation. (2014). Toi Te Kupu: He Papakupu Toiora. Auckland, New Zealand.

World Iron Awareness week. (2016). Retrieved April, 2016 from