How to Add Foods That Are High in Iron to Your Diet. How to get iron

Iron supplements can be helpful when people have difficulty getting enough iron only through dietary measures, such as a plant-based diet. It is better to try to eat enough in your diet alone by removing or reducing factors that may be impeding your absorption of iron and eating iron-rich foods.

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iron is a nutrient necessary for many body functions, such as the production of hemoglobin in red blood cells, which carries oxygen from the lungs throughout the body. While it can store iron, your body cannot. The only way to get iron is through food.

Iron-rich foods

There are 2 types of iron in food: heme and non-heme iron. Haem iron, which is found in meat, poultry and seafood, is more efficiently absorbed than non-heme iron, which is found in eggs and plant foods.

Animal-based sources of iron

The best sources of animal-based iron include:

  • red meats (beef, lamb, veal, pork, kangaroo). The redder the meat, the higher the iron content
  • offal (liver, kidney, pate)
  • poultry
  • fish or shellfish (salmon, sardines, tuna)
  • eggs

Plant-based sources of iron

Plant foods that contain non-haem iron may still provide the body with the right amount of iron. Good sources are:

  • peanuts
  • dried fruits
  • wholemeal pasta and bread
  • iron fortified bread and cereals
  • legumes (mixed beans, baked beans, lentils, chickpeas)
  • dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, beetroot, broccoli)
  • oat
  • tofu

If treatment for iron deficiency is needed, your doctor will assess your iron status and determine the exact form of treatment – which may include changes to your diet or taking supplements.

Foods that are high in iron by type

To better understand how you can introduce more iron into your diet, here is a handy list of iron-rich foods.

Iron-rich legumes
  • Dried or canned peas and beans (kidney, garbanzo, cannellini, soybeans, etc.).
  • Lentils.
  • Peas.
  • Tofu.
  • Tempeh (fermented soybeans).
Iron-rich bread and cereal
Iron-rich fruit
Iron-rich protein sources
Iron-rich vegetables
  • Broccoli.
  • Green Beans.
  • Green leafy vegetables – dandelion, kale, kale, spinach.
  • Potatoes.
  • Cabbage, Brussels sprouts.
  • Tomato paste and other products.
Other foods that are high in iron

Why you need iron in your diet

“Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, making it an important mineral that our bodies need to carry oxygen for our cells to produce energy,” says registered nutritionist Julia Zumpano, RD, LD. “If we don’t have enough iron, we won’t have enough red blood cells to transport oxygen. This leads to extreme tiredness and dizziness, ”adds Zumpano.

iron is also essential for the development and growth of the brain, and the production of many other cells and hormones in the body.

“Without adequate iron stores, people can develop a condition called iron deficiency anemia – the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide. It is associated with symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, problems with keeping body heat, pale skin, dizziness, headache and inflammation of the tongue, ”says Zumpano.

The same serving size of raw spinach, which is more loosely packed than when prepared after cooking, yields nearly 1 mg of iron, offering some of the minerals, according to the USDA.

Eat Smart to Increase Your Iron Absorption

What you eat – and when you eat it – can affect your iron absorption. Here are some ways to introduce more of this mineral into your diet.

  • Eat meat. The best source of iron is heme iron, which comes from animal-based foods including red meat, poultry, and seafood, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). While tofu, legumes, and spinach contain iron, plant-based (or non-haem) iron is not as easily absorbed as iron from meat. “Only about 2 to 20 percent of non-haem iron passes from the gastrointestinal tract into the blood, compared with 15 to 35 percent from animal foods,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, author of Slim Down Now.
  • Add vitamin C to your diet. “Vitamin C evaporation with the meal provides non-heme iron, increasing its absorption,” says Sass. In addition to eating more fruits like oranges, kiwfruiti, and grapefruits, you can get a healthy dose of vitamin C from peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower.
  • Cook in a cast iron pan. “Using iron cookware transfers some of the iron to food,” says Sass. “This works especially for acidic foods with a higher moisture content, such as tomato sauce.” According to a small study conducted on children, published in December 2013 in the Indian Journal of Pediatrics, cooking in a cast iron pot increased the iron content of food by about 16 percent.
  • Change the coffee and tea schedule. Separate coffee and tea (including decaffeinated tea, although herbs are fine) from iron-rich meals and supplements. “The tannins in tea and coffee interfere with absorption, so if you’re trying to build up your body’s iron stores, drink tea and coffee at least a few hours before [or after] an iron-rich meal,” Sass adds.
  • Postpone your iron intake. Your body can absorb more iron when consumed in several smaller doses rather than one large dose, says Sass.

What to Know About Taking Iron Supplements

Because the amount of iron in food is so small compared to what an iron deficient person might need, “they are unlikely to drastically improve their iron levels through their diet,” says Sutter. Although foods like liver and shellfish contain high amounts of iron – with pork liver containing about 15 milligrams (mg) per 3 oz. (Oz) serving and 3 oz. Oysters containing about 8 mg, according to the US Department of Agriculture and the US ODS respectively – they are not widely available or even recommended for daily consumption due to high cholesterol.

According to the ASH, even if you’ve identified the cause of the iron deficiency (and are treating your condition), you may still need to take iron orally or intravenously. Iron supplements are usually taken three times a day and most people need to take 150 to 200 mg of elemental iron, according to ASH. To help maximize the way your body uses these supplements:

  • Do not take them concurrently with calcium supplements if you are taking both. According to the ODS, calcium can interfere with iron absorption.
  • Take them on an empty stomach or with orange juice to improve absorption, adds Sutter.

Note that most iron supplements have some side effects such as constipation, nausea, and stomach upset. Taking them after lunch and at bedtime can help relieve some of the nausea.

There are 2 types of iron in food: heme and non-heme iron. Haem iron, which is found in meat, poultry and seafood, is more efficiently absorbed than non-heme iron, which is found in eggs and plant foods.

High-Risk Populations

The following populations are more likely to develop iron deficiency.

Pregnant women: Increased blood volume requires more iron to deliver oxygen to the baby and the growing reproductive organs. Check with your doctor or registered dietitian before taking an iron supplement.

Toddlers: Babies store enough iron for the first six months of life. After six months, their iron requirements increase. Breast milk and infant formula fortified with iron can provide amounts of iron that cannot be found in solid foods. Cow’s milk is a poor source of iron. When babies drink too much milk, they displace other foods and can develop ‘milk anemia’. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that cow’s milk should not be fed beyond one year, when it should be limited to no more than 4 cups a day.

Adolescent Girls: Their often inconsistent or restricted diets – coupled with their rapid growth – put adolescent girls at risk.

Women of childbearing potential: Iron deficiency may occur in women with excessively heavy periods.

How to Prevent Iron Deficiency

Eat a balanced, healthy diet that includes good sources of iron to prevent any deficiencies. Combine vegetarian iron sources with vitamin C in the same meal. For example: pepper and bean salad, spinach with lemon juice, or fortified cereals and berries.

If treatment for iron deficiency is needed, your doctor will assess your iron status and determine the exact form of treatment – which may include changes to your diet or taking supplements.

Caroline Kaufman, MS, RDN, is a Los Angeles-based nutrition expert and freelance writer in private practice.

Once absorbed by the body, it is used as a building block for hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that helps transport oxygen around the body.

Foods With Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene

Vitamin A plays a key role in maintaining healthy eyesight, bone growth, and the immune system.

Beta-carotene is a red-orange pigment found in plants and fruits. It can be converted into vitamin A in your body.

Good sources of beta-carotene and vitamin A are carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, pumpkin, red peppers, cantaloupe, apricots, oranges, and peaches.

One study of 100 people receiving grain-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 meals increased absorption by 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, but can also stimulate the absorption of the non-haem form.

Several studies have found that adding beef, chicken, or fish to a cereal-based meal resulted in an approximately 2-3 times greater absorption of non-haem iron (4, 15).

Studies have also shown that adding 75 grams of meat to a meal increased non-haem iron absorption by about 2.5 times compared to a meal without it (4).

Based on the research results, it was estimated that 1 gram of meat, fish or poultry provided an enhancing effect similar to 1 mg of vitamin C (4).


You can increase your iron absorption from your meals by eating foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, or beta carotone. Eating meat, fish, or poultry with other foods can also help.

While some foods can improve iron absorption, others may hinder it.

Good sources of beta-carotene and vitamin A are carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, pumpkin, red peppers, cantaloupe, apricots, oranges, and peaches.

Chickpeas Are a Vegetarian-Friendly Iron Powerhouse

chickpea hummus

Animal products are known to be a source of iron, but that doesn’t mean plant products won’t help you achieve your goal either. Chickpeas, a type of legume, provide 3.7 mg of iron per cup according to the USDA, making them an excellent source. They also provide lean plant-based protein – exactly 14.6 g per cup.

Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, are a tasty addition to salads and pasta dishes and can be an unexpected way to mix salsa. If you’re not a fan of texture, rub chickpeas to create iron-rich homemade hummus. Adding lemon juice to hummus will increase the vitamin C content of your snack and help your body absorb the non-haem iron found in legumes more easily because, according to the Mayo Clinic, when you eat iron-rich food at the same time as vitamin C-rich food, you increase the body’s capacity for iron absorption.

Fortified Breakfast Cereals Can Be Packed With Iron

raisin bran flakes

Is a bowl of cereal your favorite breakfast? Choose a fortified version to start your day with an iron dose – the Mayo Clinic recommends this as a way to increase your total iron. Check the nutrition label for the amount of iron per serving. (And be sure to choose the box with the least amount of sugar added.)

According to the USDA, raisin bran contains 9.39 mg of iron per cup, making it an excellent source. It is also an excellent source of fiber, a common feature of fortified cereals. The Mayo Clinic notes that fiber can help relieve constipation and reduce the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

Note that most iron supplements have some side effects such as constipation, nausea, and stomach upset. Taking them after lunch and at bedtime can help relieve some of the nausea.

Healthy pregnancy

Blood volume and red blood cell production increase dramatically during pregnancy to supply the developing fetus with oxygen and nutrients. As a result, the need for iron also increases. While the body usually maximizes iron absorption during pregnancy, insufficient iron intake or other factors that affect the way iron is absorbed can lead to iron deficiency.

Low iron intake during pregnancy increases the risk of premature labor and low birth weight, as well as low iron stores and impaired cognitive or behavioral development in infants. Pregnant women who are low in iron may be more prone to infections because iron also supports the immune system.

It is clear that iron supplements are needed by both pregnant and iron deficient women. However, research is underway to recommend additional iron to all pregnant women, even those with normal iron levels. It is believed that all pregnant women should take 30 to 60 milligrams (mg) of iron supplements each day of pregnancy, regardless of iron levels.


Dietary iron deficiency can affect how efficiently your body uses energy. Iron carries oxygen to the muscles and brain, and is essential for both mental and physical performance. Low iron levels can cause a lack of concentration, increased irritability, and decreased endurance.

Iron deficiency is more common among athletes, especially young female players, than among people who do not lead an active lifestyle.

This seems to be especially true for female endurance athletes such as long distance runners. Some experts suggest that women involved in endurance sports should add an additional 10 mg of elemental iron per day to their current RDA for iron intake.

Iron deficiency in athletes lowers athletic performance and weakens the immune system. Lack of hemoglobin can significantly reduce performance during exercise as it reduces the body’s ability to transport oxygen to the muscles.

iron has a low bioavailability, which means that the small intestine does not easily absorb large amounts. This reduces its availability for use and increases the likelihood of a shortage.

How efficiently it is absorbed depends on a number of factors, including:

  • iron source
  • other components of the diet
  • digestive health
  • use of drugs or supplements
  • the general condition of a person’s iron
  • the presence of iron promoters such as vitamin C

In many countries, wheat products and infant formulas are fortified with iron.

There are two types of iron in the diet, known as heme and non-haem iron. Animal food sources, including meat and seafood, contain heme iron. Heme iron is more easily absorbed by the body.

non-heme iron, found in plants, requires the body to take many steps to absorb it. Vegetable sources of iron include beans, nuts, soybeans, vegetables, and fortified grains.

The bioavailability of heme iron from animal sources can be up to 40 percent. However, non-heme iron from plant sources has a bioavailability of 2 to 20 percent. For this reason, the RDA for vegetarians is 1.8 times higher than for those who eat meat to compensate for the lower levels of absorption from plant foods.

Consuming foods rich in vitamin C along with non-haem iron sources can dramatically increase iron absorption.

When following a vegetarian diet, you should also consider food ingredients and medications that block or reduce iron absorption, such as:

  • proton pump inhibitors and omeprazole, used to reduce the acidity of stomach contents
  • polyphenols in cereals and legumes, as well as in spinach
  • tannins in coffee, tea, wine and some berries
  • phosphates in carbonated drinks such as soda
  • phytates in beans and grains

Some of the best sources of iron are:

  • Canned Clams: 3 oz. Provides 26 milligrams (mg) of iron.
  • Fortified regular dry oatmeal: 100 g provides 24.72 mg.
  • White beans: One cup provides 09/21.
  • Dark chocolate (45 to 69 percent cocoa): One bar provides 12.99 mg.
  • Cooked Pacific Oysters: 3 oz. Delivers 7.82 mg.
  • Cooked Spinach: One cup contains 6.43 mg.
  • Beef Liver: 3 oz. Provides 4.17 mg.
  • Cooked and drained lentils: half a cup equals 3.3 mg.
  • Hard Tofu: Half a cup delivers 2.03 mg.
  • Cooked and drained chickpeas: Half a cup provides 2.37 mg.
  • Canned Stewed Tomatoes: Half a cup equals 1.7 mg.
  • Lean, Ground Beef: 3 oz. Provides 2.07 mg.
  • medium Baked Potato: Provides 1.87 mg.
  • Roasted cashews: 3 oz. Provides 2 mg.
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