Iron is an important mineral that is necessary to maintain good health. It assists in the transportation of oxygen and carbon dioxide within the body, and it also plays a role in hemoglobin production. In many cases, people who are deficient in iron suffer from fatigue, anemia and shortness of breath. This article will discuss foods with high iron content.
Food With More Iron
When you eat food with iron, iron is absorbed into your body mainly through the upper part of your small intestine.
There are two forms of dietary iron: heme and nonheme. Heme iron is derived from hemoglobin. It is found in animal foods that originally contained hemoglobin, such as red meats, fish, and poultry (meat, poultry, and seafood contain both heme and non-heme iron). Your body absorbs the most iron from heme sources. Most nonheme iron is from plant sources.
Very good sources of heme iron, with 3.5 milligrams or more per serving, include:
- 3 ounces of beef or chicken liver
- 3 ounces of mussels
- 3 ounces of oysters
Good sources of heme iron, with 2.1 milligrams or more per serving, include:
- 3 ounces of cooked beef
- 3 ounces of canned sardines, canned in oil
Other sources of heme iron, with 0.6 milligrams or more per serving, include:
- 3 ounces of chicken
- 3 ounces of cooked turkey
- 3 ounces of ham
- 3 ounces of veal
Other sources of heme iron, with 0.3 milligrams or more per serving, include:
- 3 ounces of haddock, perch, salmon, or tuna
Iron in plant foods such as lentils, beans, and spinach is nonheme iron. This is the form of iron added to iron-enriched and iron-fortified foods. Our bodies are less efficient at absorbing nonheme iron, but most dietary iron is nonheme iron.
Very good sources of nonheme iron, with 3.5 milligrams or more per serving, include:
- Breakfast cereals enriched with iron
- One cup of cooked beans
- One-half cup of tofu
Good sources of nonheme iron, with 2.1 milligrams or more per serving, include:
- One-half cup of canned lima beans, red kidney beans, or chickpeas
- One cup of dried apricots
- One cup of cooked enriched egg noodles
- One-fourth cup of wheat germ
- 1 ounce of pumpkin, sesame, or squash seeds
Other sources of nonheme iron, with 0.7 milligrams or more, include:
- One-half cup of cooked split peas
- 1 ounce of peanuts, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, roasted almonds, roasted cashews, or sunflower seeds
- One-half cup of dried seedless raisins, peaches, or prunes
- One medium stalk of broccoli
- One cup of raw spinach
- One cup of pasta (cooked, it becomes 3-4 cups)
- One slice of bread, half of a small pumpernickel bagel, or bran muffin
- One cup of brown or enriched rice
How to Get More Iron From Your Food
Some foods can help your body absorb iron from iron-rich foods; others can hinder it. To absorb the most iron from the foods you eat, avoid drinking coffee or tea or consuming calcium-rich foods or drinks with meals containing iron-rich foods. Calcium itself can interfere.To improve your absorption of iron, eat it along with a good source of vitamin C — such as orange juice, broccoli, or strawberries — or eat nonheme iron foods with a food from the meat, fish, and poultry group.
If you have trouble getting enough iron from food sources, you may need an iron supplement. But speak to your health care provider about the proper dosage first and follow their instructions carefully. Because very little iron is excreted from the body, iron can accumulate in body tissues and organs when the normal storage sites — the liver, spleen, and bone marrow — are full. Although iron toxicity from food sources is rare, deadly overdoses are possible with supplements.
Healthy Foods That Are Great Sources of Iron
The good news is that a lot of common foods contain iron — from oysters and pumpkin seeds to fortified cereals and red meat.
Here are 10 foods high in iron that can help you get all of the mineral you need.
Eggs, Red Meat, Liver, and Giblets Are Top Sources of Heme Iron
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in addition to some non-heme iron, lots of animal proteins have heme iron, including ground beef (4 ounces of 93 percent lean ground meat provides 2.63 mg, meaning it’s a good source), eggs (1.68 mg in two large eggs), turkey (1.23 mg per 3 ounces of dark-meat turkey), and pork loin (just over 0.5 mg per 3 ounces).
Organ meats like liver and giblets are especially rich in iron. For example, 113 grams of chicken giblets has 6.1 mg of iron, making it an excellent source. Meanwhile, liver serves up an impressive amount of iron. One ounce of pork liver comes packed with 6.61 mg of iron, another excellent source. If your cholesterol is high, or if you are pregnant, avoid liver. MedlinePlus notes that liver is high in cholesterol (1 ounce contains 85.3 mg of cholesterol), and research links eating liver to possible birth defects.
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Oysters, Mussels, and Clams Are Rich Sources of Iron
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Go ahead and splurge on the seafood appetizer — it comes with a generous side of iron! Bivalve mollusks like clams, mussels, and oysters are loaded with the important nutrient, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Per the USDA, five raw oysters deliver 3.23 mg of iron, making it a good source. They are also an excellent source of zinc, with 27.5 mg, as well as vitamin B12, with 6.1 micrograms.
As the NIH points out, zinc helps the immune system fend off viruses and bacteria, and vitamin B12 helps keep nerve and blood cells healthy.
If oysters, mussels, and clams aren’t on your regular menu, common seafood choices have some iron as well, according to the Mayo Clinic. For example, 3 ounces of chinook salmon has 0.2 mg of iron, per the USDA.
Chickpeas Are a Vegetarian-Friendly Iron Powerhouse
Animal products are known for being sources of iron, but that doesn’t mean plant-based staples can’t help you meet your goal, too. Chickpeas, a type of legume, provide 3.7 mg of iron per cup, per the USDA, making them an excellent source. They also deliver lean, plant-based protein — 14.6 g per cup, to be exact.
Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, are a tasty addition to salads and pasta dishes, and they can be an unexpected way to mix up salsa. If you’re not a fan of the texture, puree chickpeas to create homemade iron-rich hummus. Adding lemon juice to your hummus will increase the vitamin C in the snack and help your body more easily absorb the non-heme iron in the legumes, because according to the Mayo Clinic, when you eat an iron-rich food at the same time as a vitamin C–rich food, you enhance your body’s ability to absorb the iron.
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Fortified Breakfast Cereals Can Be Packed With Iron
Is a bowl of cereal your breakfast of choice? Opt for a fortified version to start off your day with a dose of iron — Mayo Clinic recommends it as a way to up your iron total. Check the nutrition label for the amount of iron per serving. (And be sure to opt for the box with the least amount of added sugar.)
Per the USDA, raisin bran has 9.39 mg of iron per cup, and that makes it an excellent source. It is also an excellent source of fiber, a common characteristic of fortified cereals. The Mayo Clinic notes that dietary fiber can help relieve constipation and lower your odds of developing diabetes and heart disease.
Pumpkin Seeds May Be Small, But They Have Lots of Iron
Don’t underestimate these crunchy seeds that you start seeing around Halloween. A 1-ounce serving of raw pumpkin seeds without shells has 2.7 mg of iron, per the USDA, providing a good iron source in a variety of dishes. Add the seeds to homemade trail mix or bread or muffin recipes, or use them as a crunchy topping for yogurt, cereal, or salad. You may also try them alone for a quick and healthy snack — 1 ounce packs 7 grams of protein. Win-win!
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Edamame Is Filled With Iron and Other Essential Nutrients, Too
A common sushi sidekick, a cup of these raw green soybeans contains about 9 mg of iron, per the USDA, making them an excellent source of the nutrient. Not to mention, they’re a good source of minerals such as copper, which helps keep blood vessels and the immune system healthy, according to the NIH. A cup of soybeans is also a good source of copper and an excellent source of manganese and fiber, as well as provides plant-based protein.
Largeman-Roth recommends including soybeans in stir-fries or making an edamame dip. Soy beans make a tasty addition to pasta dishes, too, or you can simply enjoy them on their own, steamed and sprinkled with a little sea salt.
Prepare Black Beans With Vitamin C–Rich Veggies for an Iron Win
Boiled black beans serve up 3.61 mg of iron per cup, per the USDA, for an excellent source. To rev iron absorption, pair them with healthy fare such as kale, bell peppers, broccoli, or cauliflower. As MedlinePlus notes, those foods are high in vitamin C, which is a nutrient that aids the absorption of non-heme iron. Add beans to a salad, puree them into a dip to eat with raw veggies, or toss them into a stir-fry. The recipe possibilities for a can of black beans are endless! And if you’re looking for more variety, kidney, pinto, and fava beans all have iron, too, according to the USDA.
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Lentils Are Another Legume With Lots of Iron
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Another legume worth an honorable mention in the iron department is lentils. Cooked lentils offer an excellent source of the mineral with about 6.59 mg per cup, per the USDA. And they offer 15.6 g of fiber per cup, too, making them a rich source. Fiber may help lower cholesterol and stabilize your blood sugar, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Lentils are also an extremely versatile ingredient in the kitchen — they’re a great addition to everything from soups and salads to burgers and chili.
Spinach, Eaten Either Cooked or Raw, Offers Iron
No matter how you prepare it, spinach is an excellent source of iron. Per the USDA, 1 cup of this healthy green (frozen and then boiled) delivers 3.72 mg of iron, as well as some protein, fiber, calcium, and vitamins A and E.
Calcium is necessary to keep your bones strong, according to the Mayo Clinic; vitamin A is beneficial for your vision and immunity, the Mayo Clinic notes; and vitamin E helps your vision, as well as your blood, brain and skin, per the Mayo Clinic.
The same serving size of raw spinach, which is more loosely packed than when prepared cooked, gives you almost 1 mg of iron, offering some of the mineral, according to the USDA.
While the leafy green often gets a bad rap in the taste department, especially among kids, it’s an easy ingredient to sneak into recipes undetected for a secret iron-boost (and as a non-heme iron source, it’s especially beneficial when paired with foods high in vitamin C, like some veggies, suggests Anzlovar, and as research shows). “I love using sautéed spinach in vegetable lasagna,” says Largeman-Roth. “It also works well in mini frittatas, which my kids love.” If eating spinach in a dish doesn’t sound appealing, try this green mixed into a naturally sweet fruit smoothie.
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Sesame Seeds Taste Nutty — and Have a Kick of Iron
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“Sesame seeds have a wonderful nutty taste and are a rich source of iron,” says Largeman-Roth. The seeds contain some iron — 1.31 mg per tablespoon, per the USDA — and offer a slew of other essential nutrients, like copper. Not to mention, they contain phosphorus, vitamin E, and zinc.
An easy way to incorporate the seeds into your diet is to sprinkle them on a salad: Each tablespoon will add over a milligram of iron to your daily count — and when you’re aiming for 18 mg a day, every bit counts!