Whether you’re here to help a condition like anemia or hemophilia, or you just know how important natural sources of iron can be, we’ve compiled a list of iron-rich foods to arm you with the information you need to get enough iron from your diet. We’ll start with what causes iron deficiency and the consequences of not getting enough iron, then provide you with a list of foods high in iron.
Be it a condition caused by iron deficiency or an iron deficiency caused by a condition, these are some ways people find themselves with dangerously low levels of iron.
Iron Deficiency Anemia
Iron deficiency anemia occurs when your body lacks sufficient iron. Without enough iron, your body cannot supply your red blood cells with hemoglobin, the substance that allows them to carry oxygen throughout the bloodstream. Iron deficiency anemia symptoms include shortness of breath and feelings of lethargy, and if untreated can cause your organs to suffer damage due to lack of oxygen, especially the heart, which must work harder to try and make up for the lower amount of red blood cells and hemoglobin.
Hemophilia is a hereditary disease that impairs sufficient clotting of the blood, leading to severe bleeding from even the smallest of injuries due to a lack of a coagulation factor. Internal bleeding is especially dangerous because it might continue unseen, and if left untreated these bleeds can cause permanent damage or even death. Iron is especially needed by hemophiliacs because the regular loss of blood predisposes them to chronic iron deficiency.
Women with particularly heavy periods might find themselves with the symptoms of iron deficiency around the time of their periods, and are encouraged to eat iron-rich foods to account for the loss and improve their feeling of well-being.
Foods High in Iron
Iron is an essential nutrient, meaning it must be ingested from our food or via supplement form to enter our bodies. Here are 14 foods high in iron to help you meet your body’s iron needs.
1. Fortified Breakfast Cereals
The amount of iron included in fortified breakfast cereals is there to meet a real need in our diets and the diets of our children. Fortified cereals can have up to 109% of the daily value of iron—19.6 milligrams of iron per helping of 3/4 cup (29 grams)—and often include folic acid, zinc, fiber, calcium, B vitamins, and vitamin A. Fortified cereals are also a healthy option for pregnant women.
Shellfish include mussels, clams, and oysters, all of which are particularly good sources of iron. The iron found in shellfish is heme iron, which is more easily absorbed by the body than the type found in plants, non-heme iron. A 3.5-ounce serving of clams for example (110 grams) may have up to 28 milligrams of iron, 155% of your daily recommended iron intake. That same helping would also provide vitamin C, protein, and a substantial amount of vitamin B12 (1,648% of your RDI). Shellfish have even been known to increase the good HDL cholesterol in your blood.
3. Organ Meats
Organ meats are the livers, hearts, brains, kidneys, etc. from farm animals raised for consumption. These meats are some of the best sources of choline around, which is a nutrient valuable to our brains and livers. A food like beef liver will deliver high-iron content along with copper, selenium, and vitamin A.
Cooked spinach has 3.6 milligrams of iron per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), and eating raw spinach can provide even more. Though it is a source of non-heme iron, the health benefits of spinach are increased by its concentration of vitamin C, which helps increase iron absorption in the body by a significant degree. Leafy greens like spinach also provide antioxidants that can reduce inflammation, guard against cancer, and strengthen the health of your eyes.
5. Red Meat
Red meat like a skirt steak (beef) has a rich content of iron along with zinc, protein, B vitamins, and selenium. A 6-ounce steak can have as much as 52% of the recommended daily value of iron (over 9 milligrams), and research has shown that those who eat animal products like fish, poultry, and red meat are less likely to be affected by an iron deficiency. Women who consumed meat were shown to retain iron better than women who took iron supplements, as red meat is one of the most readily available sources of heme iron around.
Legumes like lentils, chickpeas, beans, soybeans, and peas are excellent sources of iron, especially for those who keep a vegetarian or vegan diet. A single cup of cooked lentils (198 grams) contains 6.6 milligrams of iron, 37% of our daily recommended value. Also containing potassium, magnesium, and folate, legumes can help reduce inflammation in diabetics and decrease the risk of heart disease for those with metabolic syndrome. High in fiber, legumes can help with appetite control for those looking to lose weight. Eating legumes alongside foods high in vitamin C like citrus fruits, tomatoes, or leafy greens like spinach will help increase your body’s iron absorption.
7. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkins seeds are a convenient snack and a source of 4.2 milligrams of iron per ounce (28 grams). With manganese, zinc, and vitamin K, pumpkin seeds are also one of the best sources for magnesium, another mineral that people are often deficient in, and which helps reduce the risk of depression, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
Dark turkey meat is an especially good source of iron, with 2.3 milligrams of iron (13% of the recommended daily value) per 3.5-ounce portion (110 grams). The white meat of turkey provides closer to 1.3 milligrams of iron per the same portion size. With several minerals, B vitamins, and protein, turkey not only helps curb appetite, but also increases your metabolic rate after you eat it. Turkey along with other high-protein foods helps build muscle and guards against muscle wasting.
This gluten-free grain can offer up to 2.8 milligrams of iron per cup (185 grams) once cooked. Not only is quinoa higher in protein than most other grains, but it also contains copper, manganese, magnesium, and folate, plus antioxidants that protect against free radical damage.
This cruciferous green vegetable has 1 milligram of iron per cooked cup (156 grams), as well as vitamin C for better absorption of iron, fiber, and vitamin K. Cruciferous vegetables also contain the plant compounds sulforaphane, indole, and glucosinolates, which are shown to have anti-cancer properties.
This soy food can provide over 7 milligrams of iron per cup (252 grams) and the nutrients calcium, magnesium, thiamine, and selenium. A staple of most vegetarian diets due to its high-protein content (20 grams per serving), tofu can also be a boon to those with menopausal symptoms or insulin sensitivity, and those at risk from heart disease.
12. Dark Chocolate
Delicious and decadent, dark chocolate contains 3.3 milligrams of iron per ounce (28 grams)—19% of your daily recommended intake. With prebiotic fiber, which feeds healthy gut bacteria in your digestive tract, dark chocolate also (in cocoa powder form) has been shown to have more antioxidant power than the juices from blueberries and acai berries. Beneficial to healthy cholesterol levels, dark chocolate also has a high flavanol content (higher than milk chocolate), which provides many of its benefits.
13. White Button Mushrooms
White button mushrooms can provide up to 15% of the daily recommended intake of iron per cooked cup (156 grams). Low in calories, high in fiber, and a good source of protein, especially for those on a plant-based diet, these mushrooms provide the important nutrients selenium, potassium, copper, B vitamins, and vitamin D (more so if they’re exposed to the sun for a significant period of time).
14. Dried Apricots
With 42% of the daily recommend amount of iron per cup (119 grams), we’re ending this list on a strong note. Apricots and other dried fruits like figs, raisins, and plums provide rich sources of fiber, potassium, and antioxidants. Dried apricots in particular provide us with vitamin C to boost the absorption of non-heme iron, and help to reduce bad cholesterol.
Proper iron balance has to do with the health of our blood, the red thread that connects our entire bodies. If your blood can’t function properly, all the nutrients you eat and air you breathe can’t get where it needs to go once inside to keep you moving. Iron deficiencies are dangerous, but getting iron from your diet is pretty simple once you know what you’re looking for. Use this list to inform your food choices and fortify yourself with iron!