Iron plays an essential role in the human body. It forms hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells, as iron binds to oxygen and provides it to tissues for their metabolic needs. Iron also a key component of various enzymes that are active in cellular oxidation reactions. It helps maintain brain function, endocrine, and immune functions. Iron is especially important for pregnant women, who are recommended to increase their iron intake by an extra 10-20 milligrams per day. The growing fetus requires iron from the mother to build up its own reserve. A pregnant woman who does not eat enough iron-rich foods risks anemia—a condition in which blood lacks the proper amount of red blood cells.
Don't risk becoming anemic! Get enough iron in your daily diet with these iron-rich foods.
Red meat is an excellent source of iron. A 3-ounce serving of skirt steak, fat trimmed, provides 2.5 milligrams (mg) of iron, which is 13% of your recommended daily intake (RDI). Even better than regular red meat? Try grass-fed beef instead. Grass-fed beef contains more of those healthy omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef, and a lot less total fat. Grass-fed beef also contains beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A), more vitamin E, and more potassium, iron, zinc, and phosphorus than grain-fed beef. Popular types of organ meats include liver and kidneys. A 3.5-ounce serving of beef liver contains 6.5 mg of iron (36% of your RDI).
Poultry like chicken, turkey, or duck, are good sources of iron. One serving of poultry will meet 5-10% of your RDI of iron. Chicken breast with the skin removed is a great source of lean protein. It is also a better option than red meat for those with high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Half a chicken breast will provide 0.9mg of iron, which is 5% of your RDI. To avoid extra oils and fats, bake your chicken in the oven or grill it instead of frying it.
Fish, clams, mollusks, mussels, and oysters all contain iron. Sardines are an excellent source of iron, with 1.8mg (10% RDI) in just a ¼-cup serving. Oysters are an even better source of iron, with 5.6mg (31% of your DRI) in 6 medium-sized oysters. They are also an excellent source of vitamin B12, with 272% of your RDI in one serving, and many essential minerals including magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and selenium.
Shrimp is also a good source of iron, with 2.6mg (15% of your DRI) in a 3-ounce serving. Eating seafood is one great way to get your daily protein. Many seafood options are low in calories, low in fat, and high in nutrients, so eat a few servings per week to maintain a well-rounded diet.
Tofu is made from soybeans which are a good source of iron. Certain brands of tofu are enriched and will contain even more iron than regular tofu. Half a cup of tofu contains 2mg of iron, which is 11% of your DRI. Tofu is also an excellent source of protein, with 10.3g per serving. It's a great alternative to meat, poultry, or fish, and can be prepared in a number of different ways. This week, try swapping out a meat meal for tofu. Marinate the tofu in teriyaki sauce with fresh crushed garlic for an hour. Then sauté it with fresh vegetables for a tofu stir-fry. Serve over rice.
Beans are a delicious food with a wide nutrition profile. They contain plenty of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals—including iron. They are versatile because they come in many different shapes, sizes, and flavors so that you can choose the one that best suits your taste.
One cup of kidney beans contains 5.3mg of iron, which is 29% of your RDI. A cup of garbanzo beans contains 4.7mg of iron, while one cup of navy beans contains 4.3mg of iron, and one cup of pinto beans will provide you with 3.6mg of iron. Beans also provide folate or folic acid. Since they are an excellent source of both iron and folic acid, pregnant women can benefit from a diet that includes beans.
Lentils, another member of the legume family, are incredibly nutritious with plenty of proteins, fibers, vitamins, and minerals. They are easy to prepare, versatile, and they readily absorb spices, herbs, and flavors in combination with greens.
A half-cup serving of lentils contains 3.3mg of iron, which is 18.5% of your RDI. It also contains 9g of protein, 7.8g of fiber, 45% of your RDI of folate, and many other importing nutrients. For an easy, no-fuss way to prepare lentils, cook them together with rice and serve as you normally would.
Dark, leafy greens including kale, spinach, collard greens, and chard, are amongst the most nutritious foods you can eat. Leafy greens are rich in many essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibers. These superfoods provide plenty of iron as well.
A cup of cooked spinach contains 6.4g of iron (36% of your DRI). Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin A (377% of your RDI), vitamin K (1,111% of your RDI), and folate (66% of your RDI), as well as numerous other macro- and micro-nutrients. Spinach is also rich in vitamin C, which is known to boost iron absorption. One cup of cooked collard greens contains 2.2mg of iron, and one cup of cooked kale contains 1.2mg of iron. For a balanced diet, include at least two servings of dark, leafy greens daily.
Dried fruit including raisins, apricots, and prunes, are good sources of iron. A 100g serving of prunes contains 0.9mg of iron, which is 5% of your RDI. 100g of raisins contains 1.9mg of iron, and 100g of dried apricots contains 2.7mg of iron. To incorporate dried fruit into your diet, make a trail mix with dried fruit and nuts and eat as a mid-afternoon snack. Trail mix is packed with protein and fibers, and it's sure to get you to dinner time with a steady release of energy so you can avoid the dreaded mid-day energy crash.
If you're looking for something to add to that trail mix for added iron, reach for some pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of essential minerals including iron. One cup of pumpkin seeds contains 2.1mg or 12% of your RDI of iron. They are also a great source of magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese. Pumpkin seeds contain important antioxidants with anti-inflammatory effects. They also stimulate immune function.
If you're a chocoholic, you're in luck—but only if you reach for the rich stuff. Dark chocolate is packed with healthy antioxidants, fiber, and iron. The richer the chocolate, the healthier the bar, so opt for 70-85% cocoa to reap all the benefits it has to offer. A 1-ounce serving (28g) of dark chocolate contains 3.3mg of iron, which is 19% of your RDI. It also provides a healthy amount of magnesium (16% of your RDI), copper (25% of you RDI), and manganese (27%). Break off a little piece of the good stuff each day for an iron-boosting bonus.
This superfood is known for its grain-like qualities, its high protein content, and its mineral content. It is made of 71% carbs, 14% fats, and 15% protein. Quinoa is a versatile food that can be dished up as a side, or incorporated into a main dish.
A one-cup serving of quinoa contains 2.8mg of iron. It also contains 8g of protein, 5.2g of fiber, and 19% of your RDI of folate. It is an excellent source of magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and manganese as well. Make quinoa salad, quinoa fritters, or simply serve it up alongside a lean protein and some veggies for a balanced meal.
Many people steer clear of potatoes because of their high carbohydrate content. But did you know that baked potatoes are packed with macro- and micro-nutrients? A large baked potato contains 3.2mg of iron (18% of your RDI). It also contains a surprising amount of protein—7.5g, which is 15% of your RDI. Potatoes are rich in fiber (26% of your RDI), vitamin C, thiamin, vitamin B6, folate, and many essential minerals. For a delicious and nutritious lunch, cut a baked potato in half and top it with steamed vegetables and tuna. Melt some cheese on top for the ultimate comfort dish.
Spirulina is blue-green algae that grows in freshwater lakes, rivers, and ponds. With over 65 nutrients, including eight essential amino acids and ten non-essential amino acids, this alga is up to 70% plant protein. It is also an excellent source of iron. One ounce of dried spirulina powder contains 8mg of iron (44% of your RDI). It contains chlorophyll, which has antioxidant properties and numerous vitamins and minerals.
Experts believe that daily supplementation with spirulina can boost your immune system, fight off cancer and inflammatory disease, improve cognition, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, fight allergies, and increase energy, among other things. You can find spirulina in your local health food store or order it online. Just make sure you're buying from a trusted source to avoid contamination.
When eating a nutrient for its iron content, avoid mixing it with dairy products since the calcium found in dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, can interfere with iron absorption. This is especially true when taking an iron supplement. The best way to ensure getting all your essential vitamins and minerals is to eat a variety of foods. Lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens all contribute to building a stronger and healthier you! It is worth mentioning that unless a health professional monitors iron levels, one should keep in mind that balance is key when implementing a healthy diet because having too much of iron can be harmful. Indeed, while iron-deficiency anemia is commonly checked for, there is still misinformation about the dangers of iron overload. In fact, men and postmenopausal women are at risk for iron load due to inefficient iron excretion, since they do not have monthly blood loss. Other common causes of excess iron is regular alcohol intake, which increases iron absorption, as well as cooking acidic foods in iron pots, eating processed foods fortified with iron. Some of the diseases associated with iron overload are atherosclerosis, heart arrhythmia, liver disease, type 2 diabetes and even cancer.
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