14 Iron-Packed Foods That You Should Def Be Eating On The Reg
Just think: Iron Man. Iron clad. Iron fist. It’s no coincidence the mineral conjures images of strength and energy—because that’s what it does for your body when you eat it.
“Iron is essential for our bodies to function because it helps blood cells carry oxygen to where it’s needed,” says Margie Saidel, R.D. at Chartwells K12. That’s especially important if you’re working out on the reg, since your muscles need a regular supply of oxygen, especially if they’re under a lot of strain (ahem, that killer HIIT class).
“Since our bodies don’t make iron, we need to consume it as part of our diet every day,” says Saidel. The average woman between 19 to 50 years old needs about 18 milligrams of iron per day, she says—ideally from foods.
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While people traditionally associate iron with red meat, the nutrient also crops up in plant-based foods, too. But the iron in plants is a tad different—it’s called non-heme iron, says Kelly Schmidt, R.D., and it “isn’t as well absorbed, so you will need far more of it.” According to the National Institues of Health, vegetarians require about 32 milligrams of iron per day to meet their needs.
Looking for other sources of iron in your diet? Try any one of these delicious options:
Iron: 7 mg per serving
Lentils are so versatile—the high-protein pulses are delicious as a side-dish ingredient or part of a heartier, meat-free meal. They’re also packed with fiber and vitamin A.
Per 1 cup serving (cooked): 230 calories, 0.8 g fat (0 g sat fat), 4 mg sodium, 40 g carbohydrates, 4 g of sugar, 16 g fiber, 18 g protein.
Iron: 6 mg per serving
Popeye had the right idea—spinach has tons of vitamin A, calcium, and potassium to help strengthen your muscles.
Per 1-cup serving (cooked): 42 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 6 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 126 mg sodium, 4 g fiber, 6 g protein.
Iron: 4 mg per serving
Another reason to love sushi: its outside layer is loaded with iron.
Per 1/2 serving (uncooked): 338 calories, 0.6 g fat (0 g saturated), 74 g carbs, 0.1 g sugar, 5 mg sodium, 1.2 g fiber, 6 g protein.
Iron: 2 mg per serving
Not only is beef packed with iron, its high levels of protein can help you shed pounds.
Per 4-ounce serving (uncooked): 182 calories, 8 g fat (3 g saturated), 0 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 63 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 25 g protein.
Iron: 4 mg per serving
What kidney beans lack in size, they make up for in nutrients—they’re a great source of fiber, vitamin C, and protein.
Per can (drained): 330 calories, 3 g fat (0 g saturated), 57 g carbs, 10 g sugar, 614 mg sodium, 15 g fiber, 21 g protein.
Iron: 4.4 mg of iron
Ah, oysters—dubbed the aphrodisiacs of the sea, legend has it they rev up your libido. Plus, as we approach sniffle season, their high levels of zinc are crucial in boosting immunity.
Per 3-ounce serving: 69 cal, 2 g fat (0.5g sat), 4 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 90 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 8 g protein
Iron: 3 mg per serving
Chickpeas are also good source of fiber, which can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol. As a complex carb, they help keep you full and keep your blood sugar stable too.
Per 1-cup serving: 270 calories, 4 g fat (0 g saturated), 45 g carbs, 8 g sugar, 11 mg sodium, 13 g fiber, 15 g protein.
Iron: 2 mg per potato
French fries aren’t the only way to eat potatoes. Steam or bake the veggie for great taste without the extra fat or oil.
Per medium potato (raw): 168 cal, 0.2 g fat (0 g sat), 38 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 11 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 5 g protein.
Iron: 3 mg per serving
The protein in soybeans, a.k.a. tofu, is easier to absorb than those of other legumes, meaning more protein bang for your buck to go with that iron.
Per ½-cup serving: 181 cal, 11 g fat (1.6g sat), 4 g carbs, 7 g sugar, 4 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 22 g protein.
Iron: 2.2 mg per serving
Sardines have a pretty impressive amount of iron in them—and like other fish, they’re also packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. So…maybe you should actually try it on a pizza one of these days. (Or just really embrace Caesar salad.)
Per 1/2-cup serving: 155 cal, 9 g fat (6g sat), 0 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 229 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 18 g protein.
Iron: 6 mg per serving
The moules et frites at that cute French bistro down the street are calling your name. Mussels contain over three times your recommended daily value of B12, a mineral proven to reduce symptoms of depression (when paired with appropriate pharmacological treatments) and help prevent neural tube defects. Compared to other seafood, they’re super affordable, too.
Per 3-ounce serving: 146 cal, 4 g fat (1g sat), 6 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 314 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 20 g protein
Iron: 14 mg per serving
Oats are an especially stellar option for gluten-free folks looking for a high-fiber source of carbohydrates and iron.
Per 1-cup cooked serving: 159 cal, 3 g fat (6g sat), 27 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 115 mg sodium, 4 g fiber, 6 g protein.
Iron: 5 mg per serving
The unsung heroes of the legume family make a mean chickpea hummus alternative when mashed with a little olive oil, salt, and garlic (and a little paprika if you’re feeling fancy).
Per 1-cup serving: 254 cal, 1 g fat (0 g sat), 46 g carbs, 4 g sugar, 13 mg sodium, 19 g fiber, 16 g protein.
Iron: 2 mg per serving
Chia has long been a hot commodity in the healthy living world, thanks to its high content of omega-3s. Now you can add another reason to love the ancient seed—it’s a good source of iron.
Per 1-ounce serving: 138 cal, 8 g fat (1 g sat), 12 g carbs, 5 mg sodium, 10 g fiber, 5 g protein.
KENNY THAPOUNGSOCIAL MEDIA EDITOR
When I’m not stalking future-but-never-going-to-happen husbands on Facebook, you can catch me eating at one of NYC’s B-rated or below dining establishments—A-rated restaurants are for basics. Fun fact: Bloody Marys got me into eating celery on the regular. And for your safety, please do not disturb before 10 a.m. or coffee, whichever comes first.
8 Foods with More Iron Than Beef
Iron is an essential nutrient for so many important reasons—from keeping our energy levels up all day to transporting oxygen to our blood and regulating our body temperature. Unfortunately, low iron intake is pretty common in our country—especially in women—which can lead to iron deficiency anemia, a blood disorder.
Luckily, you don’t have to chow down on a steak to get the biggest iron bang for your buck. However, there are different types of iron. Meat and seafood contain heme and nonheme iron, whereas vegetarian sources only contain nonheme iron. Lisa Valente, MS, RD and EatingWell’s Senior Nutrition Editor recommends pairing iron-rich foods with vitamin C. “Nonheme iron isn’t as easily absorbed, so if you do eat mostly plant-based iron-rich foods try to eat them with vitamin C. Think of a spinach and citrus or berry salad or eating beans with tomatoes,” she says.
Most adult women need 18mg of iron daily, whereas men only need 8mg (pregnant woman have increased iron needs, and post-menopausal women need less). Preventing iron deficiency can start with incorporating more plant proteins, leafy greens and good carbs in your diet—with room for delicacies like creamy dark chocolate and half-shell oysters. Looks like getting enough iron will be a whole lot easier than it seems. Here are eight delicious foods with more iron than a 3-ounce serving of beef:
Featured Recipe: Oysters on the Half Shell with Mignonette Sauce
Oysters are one of the highest sources of iron out there, with 8mg per three-ounce serving. That’s 44% of your daily recommendation. Oysters are low in calories and high in protein, making them a great weight loss food.
They are also high in some nutrients that are harder to get like zinc, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and selenium. Oysters are also regarded as an aphrodisiac and could help get you “in the mood.”
Featured Recipe: Ratatouille with White Beans and Polenta
We all know that beans, beans, they’re good for your heart—but they’re also good for your energy level. White beans and kidney beans in particular are high in iron, containing eight and four grams per cup, respectively.
Beans possess a crucial fiber-protein combo to help keep you full until your next meal. And as if that weren’t enough to load them into your favorite soup, grain bowl and burrito recipes, beans are also loaded with potassium, magnesium and calcium.
3. Dark Chocolate
Featured Recipe: Coconut Dark Chocolate Truffles
Don’t feel like you have to sit out on your dark chocolate cravings—this delicious treat is loaded with nutrition too. Just one ounce of the stuff has 3.3mg of iron, along with a hefty magnesium, fiber and manganese boost. You’ll even get more than two grams of protein.
When looking for dark chocolate, be sure to watch out for how much sugar is being added and the percentage of cacao in the product. Aim for at least 50% cacao in whichever bar you choose—check out some of our favorite brands, here.
Featured Recipe: Spinach Salad with Japanese Ginger Dressing
Popeye was really onto something when he loaded up on cans of spinach! This dark leafy green is one of the ultimate superfoods. One cup of cooked spinach offers 6mg of your daily iron recommendation, and is an excellent source of a host of other essential nutrients.
Spinach is loaded with fiber, vitamins A, C and K, calcium, magnesium and about a dozen other vitamins and minerals. If you’re not a fan of the flavor, try spinach in a smoothie—we promise you won’t even taste it.
Featured Recipe: Slow-Cooker Morroccan Lentil Soup
Lentils have been a diet staple for cultures around the globe, and these nutrient-rich legumes are finally getting some of the recognition they deserve in the U.S. A mere half-cup of cooked lentils offers 3mg of iron—about 20% of your daily recommendation—plus the protein-fiber combo we need to stay satisfied long after the meal is over.
Lentils are also rich in folate, manganese, phosphorus and potassium, making a great addition to your post-workout meal. We love them in soups, curries and salads, but if you don’t like the flavor, you can do like the spinach-haters do and add them into your morning smoothie as well. Trust us, lentils make a great addition.
Featured Recipe: Thai Tofu & Vegetable Curry with Zucchini Noodles
If you’re still turning up your nose to tofu, you may want to reconsider. Restaurants are serving up delicious tofu dishes like never before, and it’s such a versatile protein to cook with at home. This little plant protein has 3mg in just a half-cup serving.
Whether you prefer tofu in a more traditional stir-fry or are willing to experiment with our delicious Tofu Parmesan, we have a recipe for you. This soybean-based protein is also a good source of selenium, manganese, phosphorus and both calcium and magnesium when fortified.
7. Blackstrap Molasses
Featured Recipe: Carob Molasses Cake (Sfouf b’ Debs)
You may have heard about people who swallow a spoonful of molasses every day, and it’s most likely for the iron benefits. Just a tablespoon of this sticky sweetener packs almost 3mg of iron, plus more than 10% of your daily calcium and potassium needs.
Molasses is most commonly used in baking, giving gingerbread cookies their iconic color. We think a spoonful of sugar helps the molasses go down and advise using it in your baking endeavors instead of ingesting a spoonful every day!
Related: 4 Natural Energy Boosters: What to Drink and Eat for More Energy, Naturally
8. Cereals & Oatmeal
Featured Recipe: Peanut Butter Protein Overnight Oats
Many foods in our grocery stores are fortified to help us meet our nutritional guidelines, and cereals are a top choice. Oats are already rich in iron, containing about 10% in just a half-cup serving, but that is often doubled if you’re reaching for a fortified product. Other popular cereals like Cheerios, Raisin Bran, Grape-Nuts and Shredded Wheat can pack up to 90% of your daily needs in a serving.