by: Yuri Elkaim

What Are the Most Iron-Rich Foods? (These 12)

Pumping iron is extremely important for your health – and believe it or not, it starts in the kitchen.

I’m talking about dietary iron, an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in our health.

That’s because iron makes up a major component of hemoglobin, which is responsible for carrying oxygen to our tissues. Also, iron from your diet supports a healthy metabolism, cell function, and hormone synthesis (1).

Dietary iron is found in two forms: heme and nonheme iron. Plant foods and fortified foods contain only nonheme iron while meat, poultry, and seafood contain a mix of heme and nonheme iron.

Heme iron is more usable by your body because it a higher bioavailability than nonheme iron. While 14 to 18 percent of dietary iron is absorbed from mixed diets that include meat and seafood, only about 5 to 12 percent is absorbed from solely vegetarian diets. This can make it a real challenge for anyone following a special diet to get enough iron.

How Much Iron Do You Need?

Although most of us get enough iron from our diet, pregnant women, vegetarians, children, and teenagers are at a higher risk of deficiency.

Inadequate intake of iron can lead to iron deficiency anemia, a condition that causes a shortage of red blood cells in the blood and can lead to fatigue, dizziness, hair loss, irritability, and brittle nails.

The current recommendations are 18 mg per day for women aged 19 to 50 and 8 mg per day for women over 50 and men. Meanwhile, the needs for pregnant women are bumped up to 27 mg per day.

If you’re pregnant, follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, or have ever been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, an important part of eating for energy will include monitoring your iron intake, in addition to following recommendations from your doctor regarding supplementation.

Don’t Forget Vitamin C

Vitamin C also plays a big role in the absorption of iron. Pair iron-rich foods with foods high in vitamin C to enhance absorption and boost your body’s utilization of iron. This can be especially important for vegetarians, as plant-based (nonheme) iron sources aren’t as bioavailable.

Citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, and dark leafy greens are all excellent sources of vitamin C and complement iron-rich foods well.

But what about foods rich in iron?

Here is a list of iron-rich foods you can easily add to your diet to meet your iron needs!

Top 12 List of Iron-Rich Foods

1. Raisins

Iron-Rich Foods - Raisins

Raisins pack lots of nutrients into a compact package. Not only are they rich in B-vitamins and potassium, raisins are also a great source of nonhdme iron. Just a quarter of a cup manages to squeeze in 1 mg of iron.

Raisins are versatile and easy to add into your diet. They can be used in baked goods and main dishes or eaten solo for a quick and easy snack.

As with any dried fruit, just be mindful of portion size. Even though they are small, they manage to provide a concentrated dose of vitamins and minerals, but that also means a concentrated amount of calories and sugar.

Try these recipes: 

2. Oysters

Iron-Rich Foods - Oysters

Oysters are high in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and, of course, iron. Just three ounces of oysters contains 8 mg of iron, which is enough to satisfy the daily requirement for women over 50 and also men.

Oysters can be enjoyed in a variety of ways and help enable you to start getting creative in the kitchen. Oyster stew, oyster-stuffed artichokes, and oyster stuffing are just a few ideas for dishes that will quickly boost your iron intake.

3. Cashews

Iron-Rich Foods - Cashews

Generally speaking, nuts are one of the best iron-rich foods for vegetarians. But in particular, cashews contain 2 mg of iron in every ounce. Not only that, but they are brimming with antioxidants, protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Sprinkle cashews – or your favorite variety of nut – onto your salads, whip up some cashew desserts, or blend together some creamy cashew butter if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to get in a little more iron.

Try these recipes:

4. Beans

Iron-Rich Foods - Beans

Beans are already a staple in most vegetarian diets because of their protein and fiber content, but did you know they’re also one of the most iron-rich foods?

White beans are literally loaded with iron, boasting an impressive 8 mg per cup while kidney beans are slightly lower, containing around 4 mg per cup.

While both are still excellent additions to the diet, studies have shown that the iron in white beans is actually more bioavailable than in red beans (2).

Try mixing up a batch of white bean dip, hummus, chili, or stew for a nutrient-dense dinner!

Try these recipes:

5. Beef

Iron-Rich Foods - Beef

If you eat meat, beef is one of the top items on any list of iron-rich foods.

Not only is it an excellent source of iron, but it’s also more bioavailable than plant-based sources. A 3 oz. serving of ground beef clocks in at 2.2 mg, while a serving of beef liver manages to squeeze in over 15 mg of iron.

Go for lean cuts of beef and opt for grass-fed, organic varieties when possible. And, of course, always consume red meat in moderation; there is evidence linking frequent red meat consumption to cancer, so consumption should be limited. (3).

Try these recipes: 

  • Paleo Italian Meatballs with Marinara Sauce via Noshtastic
  • Mustard Roast Beef via Nosh

6. Whole grains

Iron-Rich Foods - Buckwheat

Grains are another great option to meet your goals when it comes to iron intake.

A cup of cooked bulgur has 1.75 mg of iron while a cup of cooked quinoa contained about 2.75 mg of iron. Whole grain cereals are also often enriched with iron, too, and can supply an entire day’s requirements in less than a cup.

I recommend sticking to gluten-free grains, such as brown rice, sorghum, millet, and buckwheat, which are easier digested and less irritating to the small intestine.

Try these recipes:

7. Spinach

Iron-Rich Foods - Spinach

There are so many reasons to eat your greens, and iron content is right there among them.

In addition to boasting a nutrient profile rich in vitamins K, A, and C, as well as folate, magnesium, and potassium, spinach is also an excellent source of nonhdme iron. Just one-half cup of cooked spinach packs in 3 mg of iron.

Cooking spinach helps the body absorb iron easier, so sautee or boil it a few minutes to get the most nutritionally.

Try these recipes:

8. Dark chocolate

Iron-Rich Foods - Dark Chocolate

Good news if you have a sweet tooth: dark chocolate is full of iron.

Just 3 ounces of dark chocolate contains a whopping 7 mg of iron, making it one of the more iron-dense options available. Dark chocolate is also a great source of magnesium, copper, manganese, and antioxidants to promote health.

Dark chocolate can be enjoyed alone or as part of a decadent dessert. Pair it with strawberries, which are rich in vitamin C, to aid in iron absorption.

Try these recipes: 

9. Lentils

Iron-Rich Foods - Lentils

Besides being high in fiber and protein, lentils are also an excellent source of iron. Half a cup contains 3 mg of iron, making a significant dent in your daily requirement.

Lentils are incredibly nutritious and easy to prepare.

Unlike dried beans, lentils don’t require pre-soaking. They also have a relatively short cooking time, ranging from 15 to 45 minutes.

Try these recipes:

10. Chickpeas

Iron-Rich Foods - Chickpeas

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are a great vegetarian source for protein and iron. Half a cup adds 2 mg of iron from this healthy legume.

Hummus is a classic chickpea recipe, but chickpeas can also be roasted to perfection and used to kick salads up a notch. Take a look at these 17 garbanzo bean salads for some tasty ways to get more iron into your diet.

Try these recipes: 

11. Eggs

Iron-Rich Foods - Eggs

Eggs are often touted for their numerous health benefits, ranging from vitamin B content to high-quality protein. Eggs are also a good source of iron as well, with one large egg containing about 1 mg of iron.

Eggs are a great way to start the day with a protein- and iron-packed breakfast. Add some other iron-rich veggies, like spinach, to your scrambled eggs to really up the iron content.

Try this recipe: 

12. Chicken

Iron-Rich Foods - Chicken

Chicken is a good way to increase your iron intake, with chicken breasts providing approximately 1 mg per 3.5 oz serving. Chicken liver is an especially rich source, containing nearly 12 mg per 3.5 oz serving.

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The type of iron found in chicken is also more absorbable than the iron in plant-based sources, giving you more nutritional bang for your buck.

Just like with any type of meat, be sure to opt for organic chicken if possible and keep it lean by removing skin and baking, roasting, or broiling instead of frying.

Try this recipe: 

  • Simple Roast Chicken with Garlic and Lemon via Just a Taste

 

Plan Ahead for Iron Intake

As always, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor if you’re concerned about anemia and consider supplementation based on their recommendation. There can be underlying causes that impair absorption and require additional medical intervention.

Although it can be challenging to meet your iron needs if you don’t eat meat or have increased needs due to pregnancy, it is entirely possible to get enough iron by following a nutritious diet full of fruits, vegetables, and gluten-free grains.

A balanced diet is key to effectively “pumping iron” and keeping your body healthy.

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Yuri Elkaim

Yuri Elkaim

Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.