Iron is an essential mineral that plays a vital role of carrying oxygen throughout our body. Low iron levels can lead to fatigue, weakness, and even anemia. Incorporating iron-rich foods into your diet is an effective way to combat these issues and promote optimal health.
Iron is a vital nutrient that you can only get from food and it cannot be synthesized in our body. It comes in two different forms: heme iron and nonheme iron. Heme iron comes from animal foods like red meat, fish, and poultry. Our body can absorb around 30% of this form at any time. Non-heme iron comes from plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, and nuts. This type of iron has a low bio-availability and is not absorbed as readily. Only about 2 to 10 % of this form is absorbed at any time.
When you take together the food sources rich in heme and nonheme iron, you can better absorb each type. However, this is not practically feasible for rigid vegetarians and vegans. Eating iron-rich foods along with foods rich in vitamins C, A, and beta-carotene can also help you absorb more iron while also gain additional health benefits.
The daily recommended intake of iron is 8 mg for men and 18mg for women. Pregnancy increases the recommended intake to 27 mg. Menopause decreases it to 8 mg.
This article talks about 12 delicious and nutrient-packed foods that are sure going to give your iron levels a much-needed boost. This list is for everyone. Whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, or a meat eater, there are options for everyone on this list.
These 12 iron-rich foods are a must-try:
Organ meats are one of the most nutritious foods, yet they are often overlooked. All the major organ meats like liver, kidneys, heart & brain are high in heme iron.
- Chicken liver: 5.1 mg per 1.5 ounces (28% of Daily Value)
- Beef liver: 5.50 mg per 3 ounces, (31% of DV)
- Beef heart: 5.40 mg per 3 ounces, or (30% of DV)
Organ meats are also rich in protein, B vitamins, copper, and selenium.
Liver is particularly high in vitamin A and provides a massive 1,049% of DV per 3.5-ounce serving.
To add to the goodness, organ meats are among the rich sources of choline. Choline is an important nutrient for brain and liver health which many people cannot get enough of.
As a heme iron source, red meat is the single most easily accessible one. This makes it an easy to incorporate iron source for people who are prone to anemia. The amount of iron content depends on the type of red meat.
Red meat is also rich in protein, zinc, selenium, and some B vitamins.
The following red meats can easily help you meet your daily iron requirements:
- Bison: 4.13 mg per 3 ounces (23% of DV)
- Venison: 3.61 mg per 3 ounces (20% of DV)
- Beef: 2 mg per 3 ounces (12% of DV)
All shellfish are rich in iron, but the best sources are clams, oysters, and mussels.
A 3.5-ounce/100-gram serving of clams can provide 3 mg of iron, which is 17% of DV.
The iron content of clams can be highly variable, and some types may contain much lower amounts than this.
A 3.5-ounce serving of clams also provides 26 gm protein, 24% of DV for vitamin C, and a massive 4,125% of DV for vitamin B12.
Shellfish are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids which help to increase the levels of heart-healthy HDL cholesterol and are also a good fat for brain.
There are legitimate concerns about mercury and toxins in some types of fish and shellfish. The research so far says that the benefits of consumption outweigh the risks.
Poultry & Eggs
Although poultry contains less iron than red meat, but it’s still a good source of heme iron. The dark form of poultry meat contains more iron than the white form of poultry meat. Poultry meat also provides B vitamins, and minerals like selenium.
Eggs are also a good source of heme iron.
Here’s the iron content of dark meat poultry and eggs
- Dark turkey meat: 1.23 mg per 3 ounces (7% of DV)
- Dark chicken meat: 1.16 mg per 3 ounces (7% of DV)
- Hard-boiled eggs: 1.19 mg in two large eggs (7% of DV)
Turkey is also considered an excellent protein source for weight loss as the high protein content makes you feel full for longer and increases your metabolic rate after meal.
Legumes like beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas, and soybeans are amongst the best iron–rich foods for vegetarians. A single cup (198 gm) of cooked lentils contains 6.6 mg iron, which is 37% of DV.
Similarly, a cup of cooked red kidney beans contains 5.2 mg iron (29% of DV)
A cup of cooked chickpeas contains 4.74 mg iron (26% of DV)
A half-cup (86 gm) serving of cooked black beans provides 1.8 mg iron, or 10% of DV.
Legumes are also a good source of protein, fiber, folate, magnesium and potassium.
Beans and other legumes also have tendency to reduce inflammation in people with diabetes. Legumes may also decrease the risk of heart disease in people with metabolic syndrome.
To maximize iron absorption, legumes should be consumed with foods high in vitamin C, such as tomatoes, greens, or citrus fruits.
Legumes can give you the additional benefit of helping you lose weight. They’re high in soluble fiber, which increases the feelings of fullness, reduces calorie intake, and promotes healthy gut bacteria, which influences weight, inflammation and risk of chronic diseases.
Vegetarians and vegans consume soy products like tofu and edamame, to help meet their protein needs. Tofu and edamame are not just an excellent source of protein, but also provide non-heme iron.
A half-cup (126 gm) serving of tofu provides 3.4 mg iron, which is 19% of DV.
Tofu is also a good source of Vitamin B1(thiamine) and several important minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and selenium. In addition, it provides 22 gm protein per serving.
Tofu also contains unique compounds called isoflavones, which have been known to improve insulin sensitivity, decrease risk of heart disease, and give relief from menopausal symptoms.
Iron content of some common soy products:
- Edamame: 3.50 mg per cooked cup (20% of DV)
- Tofu: 3.35 mg per one-half cup (19% of DV)
- Fortified soy milk: 2 mg per cup (10% of DV)
Many greens including cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, are one of those easy to incorporate iron–rich foods. Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and swiss chard, are also rich in iron.
- Spinach: 6.43 mg per cooked cup (36% of DV)
- Beet greens: 4 mg per cooked cup (22% of DV)
- Swiss chard: 3.96 mg per cooked cup (22% of DV)
- Broccoli: 1 mg per cooked cup (6% of DV)
Although this is non-heme iron, which isn’t absorbed very well, but the greens are also rich in vitamin C. This is important since vitamin C significantly increases iron absorption.
Green vegetables also provide a range of nutrients and carotenoid antioxidants.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds provide a decent amount of iron along with fiber, healthy fats, protein, magnesium, and other essential nutrients.
Nuts and seeds high in iron:
- Sesame seeds: 2.26 mg per 2 tbs (13% of DV)
- Pumpkin Seeds: 2.29 mg per Ounce (13% of DV)
- Cashews: 1.89 mg per Ounce (11% of DV)
Sprouted grains are produced by soaking grains in water until they begin to germinate, or sprout. As in case of beans and legumes, this process breaks down the antinutrients like phytates, which may help improve the ability to absorb iron.
Amaranth contains 5.17 mg iron per cooked cup (29% of DV)
Quinoa contains 2.76 mg iron per cooked cup (15% of DV)
Oats contain 2.11 mg iron per cooked cup (12% of DV)
Good-quality cocoa products are another good source of iron along with magnesium. Cocoa products also provide the goodness of flavonoid antioxidants, which help protect against cellular damage and reduce inflammation.
High quality cocoa products with less of sugar, should b preferred. Pure cocoa powder, cacao nibs, and dark chocolate are among the ideal options.
- Dark chocolate: 3.37 mg per 1 ounce (19% of DV)
- Cocoa powder: 1.5 mg per 2 tablespoons (8% of DV)
- Cacao nibs: 1.44 mg per 2 tablespoons (8% of DV)
It’s best to consume chocolate with a minimum of 70% cocoa to reap the maximum benefits.
Fortified foods are food products in which nutrients have been added during processing. Iron is very commonly added to plant-based foods like cereals to boost their nutritional value.
- Breakfast cereal: 8 mg per cup (44% of DV)
Rice: 1.4 mg per one-half cooked cup (8% of DV)
Bread: About 0.5 mg to 1 mg per slice, or 3% of the DV
Fish is a highly nutritious food and certain varieties like tuna are especially high in iron.
A 3 ounce (85 gm) serving of canned tuna provides 1.4 mg iron (8% of DV).
Fish is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids which promote brain health, enhance immune function, and support healthy growth and development.
Fish also contains essential nutrients like niacin, selenium, and vitamin B12.
Apart from tuna, haddock, mackerel, and sardines are another examples of iron-rich fish.
How to Get More Iron From Your Food?
Some foods can help your body absorb more iron from iron-rich foods, while others can hinder or slow down its absorption. For better absorption of iron from non-heme iron sources, eat it along with a rich source of vitamin C like orange juice and strawberries.
If you cannot meet your dietary iron requirements for some reason, you may need an iron supplement. Always speak to your health care provider or Dietitian to know the right dosage for you and follow their instructions carefully. Iron is excreted in very little amount from the body. Hence, it can accumulate in body tissues and organs if the normal storage sites (liver, spleen and bone marrow) are full. Iron toxicity from food sources is rare. Supplemental iron if taken in excessive amounts has a tendency to induce toxicity.
Prioritizing adequate iron intake is important as iron is an essential mineral which performs a range of key functions. Iron is found in many animal and plant-based foods. Most people can obtain the required amount of iron from food.
If you think you are not able to take enough iron from your diet or think you could be iron deficient, make an appointment with your dietitian to assess your iron status and get advice on how to achieve and maintain healthy iron levels.