Are you looking for a way to increase your iron intake? Do you want to know which foods have the highest content of this essential mineral?
Well, we’re here to help. We’ve compiled a list of the best ways to get more iron into your diet and make sure that your body is getting all of the nutrients it needs.
Iron is a crucial part of blood health because it helps transport oxygen through our bodies. It’s also necessary for the production of red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout our bodies.
If you’re not getting enough iron in your diet, it can lead to anemia (which causes fatigue), low energy levels and difficulty concentrating. In fact, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), nearly 60 percent of women experience symptoms like these when they don’t get enough iron in their diet.
Food With High Content Of Iron
Iron is a nutrient needed for many functions of the body, such as making haemoglobin in red blood cells, which transports oxygen from the lungs throughout the body. While it can store iron, your body can’t make it. The only way to get iron is from food.
Food With Iron Content
There are 2 types of iron in food: haem and non-haem. Haem iron, found in meat, poultry and seafood, is absorbed more effectively than non-haem iron, which is found in eggs and plant foods.
Animal-based sources of iron
Top animal-based sources of iron include:
- red meats (beef, lamb, veal, pork, kangaroo). The redder the meat, the higher it is in iron
- offal (liver, kidney, pate)
- fish or shellfish (salmon, sardines, tuna)
Plant-based sources of iron
Plant foods containing non-haem iron can still provide an adequate amount of iron for the body. Good sources include:
- dried fruit
- wholemeal pasta and bread
- iron-fortified bread and breakfast cereal
- legumes (mixed beans, baked beans, lentils, chickpeas)
- dark leafy green vegetables (spinach, silver beet, broccoli)
How much iron do I need?
Your recommended daily intake (RDI) of iron depends on your age and sex:
- Children aged 1-3 years — 9 milligrams (mg)
- Children 4-8 — 10mg
- Boys 9-13 — 8mg
- Boys 14-18 — 11mg
- Girls 9-13 — 8mg
- Girls 14-18 — 15mg
- Men aged over 19 — 8mg
- Women aged 19-50 — 18mg
- Women 51+ — 8mg
- Pregnant women — 27mg
- Women breastfeeding exclusively — 9-10mg
Women need more iron to replace the amount lost in blood during menstruation. Until menopause, women need about twice as much iron as men.
Iron deficiency occurs when the iron levels are too low, which can lead to anaemia. If you are worried you have an iron deficiency, your doctor may order some blood tests and may suggest iron supplements. You should always speak to your doctor before you take iron supplements as you could poison yourself if you take too much.
Need help getting enough iron?
Click on this infographic to ensure you get an adequate iron intake from a balanced diet.
Learn how much iron you need each day, which foods are the best sources of iron and how to incorporate them in your diet.
How to improve iron absorption from food
How you prepare food, and which foods you eat together, can affect how much iron your body absorbs.
For example, foods rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, berries, kiwi fruit, melons, green leafy vegetables and capsicum can help you absorb more iron if you eat them at the same time as iron-rich foods. Add them raw to your plate, drink unsweetened orange juice with your meal, or take a vitamin C supplement.
Coffee, tea and red wine (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), on the other hand, can reduce iron absorption. Calcium-rich foods, calcium supplements and some soybean-based foods can also inhibit iron absorption.
It’s better to have coffee, tea, red wine and dairy foods in between meals.
Can you have too much iron?
In healthy people, the body regulates how much iron it absorbs from food and supplements — so it’s difficult to have ‘too much’ iron in your diet.
However, some people have a genetic condition called haemochromatosis, which causes the body to absorb excess iron. The normal level of iron in the body is 3 to 4 grams, but in people with haemochromatosis it can be more than 20g.
About 1 person in every 300 has haemochromatosis, and it’s usually picked up through screening people who have a close relative with the condition.
Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your iron levels.
vegetables high in iron
Iron is an essential nutrient that plays an important role in many bodily functions.
A diet lacking in iron can result in low energy levels, shortness of breath, headaches, irritability, dizziness or anemia.
Iron can be found in two forms in foods — heme and non-heme. Heme iron is only found in animal products, whereas non-heme iron is only found in plants (2Trusted Source).
The recommended daily intake (RDI) is based on an average intake of 18 mg per day. However, individual requirements vary based on a person’s gender and life stage.
For instance, men and post-menopausal women generally require around 8 mg of iron per day. This amount increases to 18 mg per day for menstruating women and to 27 mg per day for pregnant women.
And, since non-heme iron tends to be less easily absorbed by our bodies than heme iron, the RDI for vegetarians and vegans is 1.8 times higher than for meat eaters.
Here is a list of 21 plant foods that are high in iron.
Legumes, including beans, peas and lentils, are great sources of iron.
Listed below are the varieties containing the most iron, from highest to lowest.
1. Tofu, Tempeh, Natto and Soybeans
Soybeans and foods derived from soybeans are packed with iron.
In fact, soybeans contain around 8.8 mg of it per cup, or 49% of the RDI. The same portion of natto, a fermented soybean product, offers 15 mg, or 83% of the RDI.
Similarly, 6 ounces (168 grams) of tofu or tempeh each offer 3–3.6 mg of iron, or up to approximately 20% of the RDI.
In addition to iron, these soy products contain between 10–19 grams of protein per portion and are also a good source of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.
Lentils are another iron-filled food, providing 6.6 mg per cup cooked, or 37% of the RDI.
Lentils contain a significant amount of protein, complex carbs, fiber, folate and manganese as well. One cup of cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein and covers around 50% of your recommended daily fiber intake.
3. Other Beans and Peas
Other types of beans contain good amounts of iron as well.
White, lima, red kidney and navy beans closely follow soybeans, offering 4.4–6.6 mg of iron per cup cooked, or 24–37% of the RDI.
However, chickpeas and black-eyed peas have the highest iron content. They provide around 4.6–5.2 mg per cup cooked, or 26–29% of the RDI.
In addition to their iron content, beans and peas are excellent sources of complex carbs, fiber, folate, phosphorus, potassium, manganese and several beneficial plant compounds.
Several studies also link regularly consuming beans and peas to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, as well as reductions in belly fat.
SUMMARY:Beans, peas and lentils are rich in iron. These legumes also contain good amounts of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds that may reduce your risk of various diseases.
Nuts and seeds serve as two more iron-rich plant sources.
Those who wish to increase their total daily iron intake should add the following varieties to their diet, as they contain the highest amounts.
4. Pumpkin, Sesame, Hemp and Flaxseeds
Pumpkin, sesame, hemp and flaxseeds are the seeds richest in iron, containing around 1.2–4.2 mg per two tablespoons, or 7–23% of the RDI.
Products derived from these seeds are also worth considering. For instance, two tablespoons of tahini, a paste made from sesame seeds, contain 2.6 mg of iron — which is 14% of the RDI.
Similarly, hummus made from chickpeas and tahini provides you with around 3 mg of iron per half cup, or 17% of the RDI.
Seeds contain good amounts of plant protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds, too.
They’re also a great source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Hemp seeds, in particular, seem to contain these two fats in the ratio considered optimal for human health.
5. Cashews, Pine Nuts and Other Nuts
Nuts and nut butters contain quite a bit of non-heme iron.
This is especially true for almonds, cashews, pine nuts and macadamia nuts, which contain between 1–1.6 mg of iron per ounce, or around 6–9% of the RDI.
Similarly to seeds, nuts are a great source of protein, fiber, good fats, vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds.
Keep in mind that blanching or roasting nuts may damage their nutrients, so favor raw and unblanched varieties.
As for nut butters, it’s best to choose a 100% natural variety to avoid an unnecessary dose of added oils, sugars and salt.
SUMMARY:Nuts and seeds are good sources of non-heme iron, as well as an array of other vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats and beneficial plant compounds. Add a small portion to your menu each day.
Gram per gram, vegetables often have a higher iron content than foods typically associated with high iron, such as meat and eggs.
Though vegetables contain non-heme iron, which is less easily absorbed, they are also generally rich in vitamin C, which helps enhance iron absorption.
The following vegetables and vegetable-derived products offer the most iron per serving.
6. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, swiss chard, collard and beet greens contain between 2.5–6.4 mg of iron per cooked cup, or 14–36% of the RDI.
For example, 100 grams of spinach contains 1.1 times more iron than the same amount of red meat and 2.2 times more than 100 grams of salmon.
This is also 3 times more than 100 grams of boiled eggs and 3.6 times more than the same amount of chicken.
Yet due to their light weight, some can find it difficult to consume 100 grams of raw, leafy greens. In this case, it’s best to consume them cooked.
Other iron-rich veggies that fit in this category include broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, which contain between 1 and 1.8 mg per cooked cup, or around 6–10% of the RDI.
7. Tomato Paste
At 0.5 mg per cup, raw tomatoes contain very little iron. However, when dried or concentrated, they offer a much greater amount.
For instance, half a cup (118 ml) of tomato paste offers 3.9 mg of iron, or 22% of the RDI, whereas 1 cup (237 ml) of tomato sauce offers 1.9 mg, or 11% of the RDI
Sun-dried tomatoes are another iron-rich source, providing you with 1.3–2.5 mg per half cup, or up to 14% of the RDI.
Tomatoes are also a great source of vitamin C, which helps increase iron absorption. Moreover, they’re a great source of lycopene, an antioxidant linked to a reduced risk of sunburn.
Potatoes contain significant amounts of iron, mostly concentrated in their skins.
More specifically, one large, unpeeled potato (10.5 ounces or 295 grams) provides 3.2 mg of iron, which is 18% of the RDI. Sweet potatoes contain slightly less — around 2.1 mg for the same quantity, or 12% of the RDI.
Potatoes are also a great source of fiber. Additionally, one portion can cover up to 46% of your daily vitamin C, B6 and potassium requirements.
Certain varieties of mushrooms are particularly rich in iron.
For instance, one cooked cup of white mushrooms contains around 2.7 mg, or 15% of the RDI.
Oyster mushrooms may offer up to twice as much iron, whereas portobello and shiitake mushrooms contain very little.
10. Palm Hearts
Palm hearts are a tropical vegetable rich in fiber, potassium, manganese, vitamin C and folate.
A lesser-known fact about palm hearts is that they also contain a fair amount of iron — an impressive 4.6 mg per cup, or 26% of the RDI.
This versatile vegetable can be blended into dips, tossed on the grill, incorporated into a stir-fry, added to salads and even baked with your favorite toppings.
Vegetables often contain significant amounts of iron. Their generally large volume-to-weight ratio explains why eating them cooked may make it easier to meet your daily requirements.
Fruit is not commonly the food group that individuals turn to when wanting to increase the iron content of their diet.
Nevertheless, some fruits are surprisingly high in iron.
Here are the best sources of iron in this category.
11. Prune Juice
Prunes are known for their mild laxative effect, which helps relieve constipation.
However, they’re also a good source of iron.
Prune juice, in particular, offers about 3 mg of iron per cup (237 ml). That’s around 17% of the RDI and is twice as much iron than the same quantity of prunes.
Prune juice is rich in fiber, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and manganese, too.
Olives are technically a fruit, and one with a good iron content at that.
They contain around 3.3 mg of iron per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), or 18% of the RDI. In addition, fresh olives are also a great source of fiber, good fats and fat-soluble vitamins A and E.
Olives also contain a variety of beneficial plant compounds thought to provide several health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease.
Mulberries are a type of fruit with a particularly impressive nutritional value.
Not only do they offer around 2.6 mg of iron per cup — 14% of the RDI — but this quantity of mulberries also meets 85% of the RDI for vitamin C.
Mulberries are a great source of antioxidants as well, which may offer protection against heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer.
Prune juice, olives and mulberries are the three types of fruit with the highest iron concentration per portion. These fruit also contain antioxidants and a variety of other nutrients beneficial to health.
Research links whole grains to a variety of health benefits.
These benefits include increased longevity and a reduced risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
However, not all grains are equally beneficial. For instance, grain processing typically removes parts of the grain that contain fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, including iron.
For this reason, whole grains typically contain more iron than processed grains. The following are the four types of whole grains containing the most iron per portion.
Amaranth is a gluten-free ancient grain that doesn’t grow from grasses like other grains do. For this reason, it is technically considered a “pseudocereal.”
Amaranth contains around 5.2 mg of iron per cup cooked, or 29% of the RDI.
Interestingly, amaranth is one of the few complete sources of plant proteins and also contains good amounts of complex carbs, fiber, manganese, phosphorus and magnesium.
Spelt is another iron-rich ancient grain.
It contains around 3.2 mg of iron per cup cooked, or 18% of the RDI. Moreover, spelt offers around 5–6 grams of protein per portion, which is approximately 1.5 times more protein than more modern grains, such as wheat.
Spelt contains a variety of other nutrients, too, including complex carbs, fiber, magnesium, zinc, selenium and B vitamins. Its mineral content may also be slightly higher than more conventional grains.
Oats are a tasty and easy way to add iron to your diet.
A cup of cooked oats contains around 3.4 mg of iron — 19% of the RDI — as well as good amounts of plant protein, fiber, magnesium, zinc and folate.
What’s more, oats contain a soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which may help promote gut health, increase feelings of fullness and reduce cholesterol and blood sugar levels
Like amaranth, quinoa is a gluten-free pseudocereal rich in complete protein, fiber, complex carbs, vitamins and minerals.
It offers around 2.8 mg of iron per cup cooked, or 16% of the RDI. Plus, research links quinoa’s rich antioxidant content to a lower risk of medical conditions, including high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
SUMMARY:Whole grains generally contain more iron than refined grains. The varieties listed above are particularly rich in iron but also contain several other nutrients and plant compounds beneficial to health.
Certain foods do not fit in one of the food groups above, yet contain significant amounts of iron.
Incorporating them into your diet can help you meet your recommended daily iron intakes.
18. Coconut Milk
Coconut milk can be a tasty alternative to cow’s milk.
Although very high in fat, it’s a good source of several vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, copper and manganese.
Coconut milk also contains a good amount of iron — more specifically, around 3.8 mg per half cup (118 ml), or around 21% of the RDI.
19. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate contains significantly more nutrients than its milk chocolate counterpart.
Not only does it offer 3.3 mg of iron per ounce (28 grams), meeting around 18% of the RDI, but it also contains a good amount of fiber, magnesium, copper and manganese.
Additionally, dark chocolate is a powerful source of antioxidants, a group of beneficial plant compounds that help protect against various diseases.
20. Blackstrap Molasses
Blackstrap molasses is a sweetener often claimed to be healthier than table sugar.
In terms of iron, it contains around 1.8 mg of iron per two tablespoons, or around 10% of the RDI.
This portion also helps cover between 10–30% of your recommended daily intake of copper, selenium, potassium, vitamin B6, magnesium and manganese.
However, despite its higher nutrient content, blackstrap molasses remains very high in sugar and should be consumed in moderation.
21. Dried Thyme
Dried thyme is one of the most popular culinary herbs.
Many consider it a nutritional powerhouse, and research has linked it to health benefits ranging from fighting bacterial infections and bronchitis to improving your mood
Thyme also happens to be one of the herbs with the highest iron content, offering 1.2 mg per dried teaspoon, or around 7% of the RDI.
Sprinkling a little on each meal is a good strategy for those wanting to increase their iron intake.
SUMMARY:Coconut milk, dark chocolate, blackstrap molasses and dried thyme are lesser known, yet undoubtedly rich, sources of iron.
The heme iron found in meat and animal products is generally more easily absorbed by the human body than the non-heme iron found in plants.
For this reason, the recommended daily intake of iron is 1.8 times higher for vegetarians and vegans than those who eat meat.
This amounts to approximately 14 mg per day for men and post-menopausal women, 32 mg per day for menstruating women and 49 mg per day for pregnant women.
However, there are various strategies that can be employed to increase the body’s ability to absorb non-heme iron. Here are the best-researched methods:
- Eat vitamin C-rich foods: Consuming vitamin C-rich foods together with foods rich in non-heme iron may increase the absorption of iron by up 300%.
- Avoid coffee and tea with meals: Drinking coffee and tea with meals can reduce iron absorption by 50-90%.
- Soak, sprout and ferment: Soaking, sprouting and fermenting grains and legumes can improve iron absorption by lowering the amount of phytates naturally present in these foods (78Trusted Source).
- Use a cast iron pan: Foods prepared in a cast iron pan tend to provide two to three times more iron as those prepared in non-iron cookware.
- Consume lysine-rich foods: Consuming plant foods like legumes and quinoa that are rich in the amino acid lysine together with your iron-rich meals may increase iron absorption.
The type of iron found in plant foods (non-heme) is less easily absorbed by the body. The methods outlined here can be used to maximize its absorption.
Iron is an essential mineral your body needs to function properly.
Thus, it’s vitally important to consume adequate amounts of it in your daily diet.
Interestingly, the foods you eat influence not only how much iron you consume, but also how well it is absorbed into your body.
Once it’s absorbed by your body, it’s used as a building block for hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that helps shuttle oxygen around your body.
Iron is also a component of myoglobin, an oxygen storage protein found in your muscles. This oxygen is used when you use your muscles.
The recommended intake range is 7–18 mg per day for the general population and up to 27 grams for pregnant women.
You may have heard that you can get iron from red meat, but there are many other foods that naturally contain iron.
In foods, iron is present in two forms: heme and non-heme.
Sources of Heme Iron
Heme iron is found in animal foods that contain hemoglobin, such as meat, fish and poultry.
Heme iron is the best form of iron, as up to 40% of it is readily absorbed by your body.
Good food sources of heme iron include:
- Fish such as halibut, haddock, perch, salmon or tuna
- Shellfish such as clams, oysters and mussels
Red meats and organ meats like liver are particularly good sources.
Sources of Non-Heme Iron
Non-heme iron primarily comes from plant sources and is present in grains, vegetables and fortified foods.
This is the form added to foods enriched or fortified with iron, as well as many supplements.
It’s estimated that 85–90% of total iron intake comes from the non-heme form, while 10–15% comes from the heme form.
In terms of its bioavailability, non-heme iron is absorbed much less efficiently than heme iron.
Good sources of non-heme iron include:
- Fortified cereals, rice, wheat and oats
- Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
- Dried fruits like raisins and apricots
- Beans like lentils and soybeans
Heme iron is found in animal foods, while non-heme iron comes from plant sources. The heme form is better absorbed by your body than the non-heme form.
Certain Populations May Be at Risk of Deficiency
Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia, which affects a billion people worldwide .
A person who is iron deficient may have various symptoms, including fatigue, dizziness, headaches, sensitivity to cold and shortness of breath when doing simple tasks.
Moreover, iron deficiency can result in poorer attention span and mental function. In fact, being deficient during early childhood has been linked to lower IQs .
Children, adolescents and women of reproductive age, particularly during pregnancy, are most at risk of iron deficiency. This is because their intake doesn’t meet their body’s high demand for it.
Additionally, it’s commonly thought that vegetarians and vegans are more prone to iron deficiency. But, interestingly, studies have shown that vegetarian and vegan diets contain just as much iron, if not more, than diets containing meat
However, although vegetarians may consume as much iron as non-vegetarians, a review found that they are still at greater risk of deficiency.
This is because they consume mainly non-heme iron, which is not absorbed as well as the heme form in animal products.
It’s generally recommended that vegetarians multiply their recommended iron intake by 1.8 times to compensate for the reduced absorption.
Iron deficiency is very common. Those who are most at risk include children, adolescents, women of reproductive age, pregnant women, vegetarians and vegans.
While not all dietary iron is absorbed equally, some foods can enhance your body’s ability to absorb it.
Foods Rich in Vitamin C
Vitamin C has been shown to enhance iron absorption. It captures non-heme iron and stores it in a form that’s more easily absorbed by your body.
Foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, bell peppers, melons and strawberries.
In one study, taking 100 mg of vitamin C with a meal increased iron absorption by 67%.
Hence, drinking citrus juice or eating other foods rich in vitamin C while you’re eating high-iron foods can increase your body’s absorption.
In vegetarian and vegan diets, iron absorption may be optimized by including vitamin C-containing vegetables during meals.
Foods With Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene
Vitamin A plays a critical role in maintaining healthy vision, bone growth and your immune system.
Beta-carotene is a red-orange pigment found in plants and fruits. It can be turned into vitamin A in your body.
Good food sources of beta-carotene and vitamin A include carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, squash, red peppers, cantaloupe, apricots, oranges and peaches.
One study of 100 people given cereal-based meals found that the presence of vitamin A increased iron absorption by up to 200% for rice, 80% for wheat and 140% for corn.
In the same study, adding beta-carotene to the meals increased absorption more than 300% for rice and 180% for wheat and corn.
Meat, Fish and Poultry
Meat, fish and poultry not only provide well-absorbed heme iron, they can also stimulate absorption of the non-heme form.
Several studies have reported that the addition of beef, chicken or fish to a cereal-based meal resulted in about 2–3 times greater non-heme iron absorption.
Research has also shown that adding 75 grams of meat to a meal increased the absorption of non-heme iron by about 2.5 times, compared to a meal without it.
Based on study findings, it was estimated that 1 gram of meat, fish or poultry provided an enhancing effect similar to that of 1 mg of vitamin C.
You can enhance the absorption of iron from meals by eating foods high in vitamin C, vitamin A or beta-carotone. Eating meat, fish or poultry with other foods can also help.
Just as some foods can improve iron absorption, others can hinder it.
Foods Containing Phytate
Phytate, or phytic acid, is found in foods like whole grains, cereals, soy, nuts and legumes.
Even a small amount of phytate can significantly decrease iron absorption.
In one study, as little as 2 mg of phytate in foods inhibited iron absorption by 18% when added to wheat rolls. And when 250 mg of phytate was eaten, up to 82% was not absorbed.
Nonetheless, the negative effect of phytate can be counteracted by consuming foods that enhance non-heme iron absorption, such as vitamin C or meat.
Calcium is an essential mineral for bone health.
However, some evidence shows that it hinders iron absorption, regardless of whether the source is a dairy product or calcium supplement.
Studies have shown that 165 mg of calcium from milk, cheese or a supplement reduced iron absorption by around 50–60%.
This is worrisome, as increased calcium intake is commonly recommended for children and women, the same populations that are at risk of iron deficiency.
However, most studies were short-term and conducted in single meals. A thorough review of long-term studies found that calcium and milk products did not have any adverse effects on absorption.
To maximize absorption, calcium-rich foods should not be eaten with meals that provide most of your dietary iron.
In the case of supplements, calcium and iron supplements should be taken at different times of the day, if possible.
Foods Containing Polyphenols
Polyphenols are found in various amounts in plant foods and beverages, including vegetables, fruits, some cereals and legumes, tea, coffee and wine.
Coffee and tea, both of which are widely consumed around meals, have a high content of polyphenols, and they have been shown to inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron (13Trusted Source).
In one review, drinking a cup of black tea with a meal reduced iron absorption by 60–70%, regardless whether the tea was weak, normal or strong.
However, when participants drank tea between meals, the reduction in absorption was only about 20%.
To counteract the negative effect of polyphenols, be sure to leave a couple of hours between your iron-rich meal and your afternoon tea or coffee.
Foods containing phytates, calcium and polyphenols can significantly reduce iron absorption.
Iron toxicity from food sources is rare. Once it is consumed, your body has its own balancing system to make certain that it gets just enough.
Nevertheless, one report showed that deadly overdoses were possible with excessive intakes of iron supplements.
Excessive iron levels can also occur in some people with a condition called hemochromatosis. This is usually caused by a gene that enhances absorption.
Other causes of iron overload include repeated blood transfusions, massive doses from the diet and rare metabolic disorders.
Additionally, consuming too much iron over time may cause large deposits of it to form in the liver and other tissues.
Consequently, it may lead to diabetes, heart disease and liver damage.
You should probably never take an iron supplement unless when recommended to you by a health professional.
Consuming too much iron can have health risks. Because of this, supplements are not recommended for most people.
Tips to Get Enough Iron
The tips below can help you maximize your dietary iron intake:
- Eat lean red meat: This is the best source of easily absorbed heme iron. Eating it several times per week can help if you are deficient.
- Eat chicken and fish: These are also good sources of heme iron. Eat a variety of them.
- Consume vitamin C-rich foods: Eat vitamin C-rich foods during meals to increase the absorption of non-heme iron. For example, some lemon juice drizzled over leafy greens will increase the amount you absorb.
- Avoid coffee, tea or milk near meals: Avoid these during meals that contain iron-rich foods. Have your coffee or tea between meals instead.
- Choose foods rich in non-heme iron: If you don’t eat meat and fish, include plenty of iron-rich plant foods in your diet.
To maximize your iron intake, try to include meat, fish, poultry, beans and lentils in your diet, as well as vitamin C-rich foods during your meals. Also, spread out your tea, coffee and dairy intakes between meals.
The Bottom Line
Iron is a vital mineral that’s essential for the function of your body. Two types of it are found in food — heme and non-heme.
This mineral can be found in an array of different foods, including many plant foods.
Meat, fish and poultry contain the heme form, which is easily absorbed by your body.
Besides being a good source of iron, the plant foods listed in this article also happen to contain a variety of other nutrients and beneficial plant compounds.
Non-heme iron is mainly found in plant foods, but this form is harder for your body to absorb. You can improve your body’s absorption by eating foods containing vitamin C, vitamin A, meat, fish and poultry during your meals.
On the other hand, foods containing phytates (cereals and grains), calcium (milk and dairy) and polyphenols (tea and coffee) can hinder iron absorption.
By carefully selecting the foods you eat and knowing how certain foods can enhance or inhibit absorption, you can make sure you’re getting the iron you need.