Are you getting enough iron-rich foods in your diet right now? Iron is a trace mineral found in every living cell in our bodies. It’s a primary component of two proteins: hemoglobin and myoglobin. Hemoglobin is the part of the red blood cell that carries oxygen to the body’s tissues while myoglobin is the part of the muscle cells that hold oxygen.
According to recent studies, iron deficiency is the most common known form of nutritional deficiency, with young children and premenopausal women at the highest risk. The best way to make sure you’re not lacking in this key nutrient is to eat adequate amounts of iron-rich foods and/or consume a supplement with iron each and every day.
Recommended Daily Amount
The amount of iron you need changes based on your age. According to the U.S. National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, the recommended daily amounts of iron are as follows:
- Birth to 6 months: 0.27 mg
- Infants 7 to 12 months: 11 mg
- Children ages 1 to 3 years: 7 mg
- Children ages 4 to 8 years: 10 mg
- Children ages 9 to 13 years: 8 mg
- Teen boys ages 14 to 18 years: 11 mg
- Teen girls ages 14 to 18 years: 15 mg
- Pregnant teens: 27 mg
- Breastfeeding teens: 10 mg
- Adult men 19 to 50 years: 8 mg
- Adult women 19 to 50 years: 18 mg
- Pregnant women: 27 mg
- Breastfeeding women: 9 mg
- Adults 51 years and older: 8 mg
As you’ll notice, infants 7 to 12 months old need more iron than children do because iron supports the process of growth and cognitive development. It can be hard for young children to get enough iron from their diet alone, especially if they are “picky eaters” — so having a blood test done during a toddler’s yearly check-up can identify an iron deficiency before it becomes a bigger problem.
Breast milk is believed to contain highly bioavailable iron, but in amounts that are not sufficient to meet the needs of infants older than 4–6 months. It’s best that babies begin to eat solid foods that are naturally rich in bioavailable iron, or to eat iron-fortified foods or formula as soon as they are able to.
Women who are pregnant need more iron than the general population, so it’s recommended that they take iron as part of a pre-natal vitamin complex.
Best Iron-Rich Foods
What foods are high in iron? Here are the top healthy iron-rich foods, including meat, fish, beans, nuts, vegetables and even some fruit. All of these measurements come directly from the USDA website.
Please that the serving sizes are standard for that particular type of food, unlike lists from other websites that list unrealistic amounts of a food for a meal portion and therefore skew the Daily Value (DV*) of iron for that said food. We also try to present the most commonly consumed form of that food, such as canned blacked beans rather than dry black beans.
One cup (180 grams) of cooked spinach contains a whopping 6.4 milligrams of iron (36 percent DV*).
There is good reason why Popeye got stronger when he ate spinach. This leafy green is loaded with iron as well as many other essential nutrients. As one of the top vegetable sources of iron, spinach is delicious raw or cooked. When you cook it, you tend to end up eating more since it cooks down so much, which means even more iron per spoonful.
Four ounces (113 grams) of beef liver contains 5.5 milligrams of iron (30.5% DV*).
When it comes to foods with iron, specifically heme iron (the more easily absorbable form), liver definitely tops the list.
If you struggle with any type of anemia — a clear sign of an iron deficiency — this is probably the best food to consume because it contains iron as well as folate and vitamin B12. These are the three vitamins and minerals you need in order to overcome anemia naturally.
3. Dark Chocolate
One ounce (28.3 grams) of 70–85 percent cacao dark chocolate contains 3.4 milligrams of iron (19 percent DV*).
When you buy high-quality dark chocolate, you not only satisfy your sweet tooth — you also give your body a significant dose of iron. Dark chocolate is also a great source of antioxidants.
One half-cup (99 grams) of cooked lentils contains 3.3 milligrams of iron (18 percent DV*).
Lentils are legumes that have a really impressive amount of non-heme iron per serving. Aside from their high supply of nutrients, they’re also really cheap and incredibly versatile.
One tablespoon of spirulina contains 2 milligrams of iron (17 percent DV*).
Spirulina is a blue-green algae renowned for its intense flavor and even more powerful nutrition profile. When it comes to vegetarian, non-heme sources of iron, spirulina is a top iron-rich food. It’s also rich in essential amino acids, iron, protein, B vitamins and vitamins C, D and E.
One 3.75 ounce can (92 grams) of Atlantic sardines (canned in oil) contains 2.7 milligrams of iron (15 percent DV*).
When it comes to sardines nutrition, these little fish are probably best known for their high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, but they’re also a significant source of heme iron. It’s easy to find canned sardines for a very affordable price in most grocery stores. Try adding them to sauces, salads and pasta dishes.
7. Black beans
One half-cup (120 grams) of canned black beans (low-sodium) contains 2.3 milligrams of iron (13 percent DV*).
Black beans are high in iron as well as protein and fiber. Black beans provide “time-released” energy in the form of starches, making them an excellent carbohydrate source for anyone who has prediabetes, diabetes or insulin resistance.
8. Pumpkin Seeds
One ounce (28 grams) of roasted pumpkin seeds contains 2.3 milligrams of iron (13 percent DV*).
Versatile, delicious, and chock-full of nutrition, pumpkin seeds are one of the best sources of iron available. Plus, adding these flavorful seeds to your diet can also bump up your intake of several other important nutrients, including fiber, magnesium and zinc.
Simply roast them and season with your choice of herbs for a delicious snack, or add them to salads, sauces and baked goods.
One-quarter of a block (81 grams) of tofu contains 2.2 milligrams of iron (12 percent DV*).
Tofu, also called bean curd, has gained popularity over the years, especially as a vegetarian- and vegan-approved source of protein. The tofu nutrition facts are pretty impressive, packing a good amount of protein, manganese, calcium, selenium and phosphorus into each serving.
A 3.5 ounce (100 grams) of ground beef (90 percent lean meal/10 percent fat) contains 2.1 milligrams of iron (12 percent DV*).
Grass-fed beef is another awesome red meat source of heme iron as well as many other key nutrients, and it’s a favorite for many when it comes to iron-rich foods. In addition to iron, grass-fed beef is also higher in precursors for vitamin A and E, along with cancer-fighting antioxidants, compared to grain-fed beef.
Two whole eggs (100 grams) contain 1.7 milligrams of iron (9 percent DV*).
Eggs are one of the top sources of heme iron, packing a whopping 5 percent of the daily value into a single egg. In addition to being one of the best iron-rich foods for kids and adults alike, eggs are also loaded with protein, selenium, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and phosphorus.
One half-cup (76 grams) of canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans) contains 1.5 milligrams of iron (8 percent DV*).
Not only have chickpeas secured a slot on the healthiest legumes and vegetables list, but they are also one of the best high-iron foods that you can add to your diet. These power-packed legumes boast a wide range of other nutrients as well, offering a good amount of manganese, folate and copper in each serving.
Chickpeas make a great addition to curries, salads, pasta dishes and sandwiches and can help bring just about any recipe to the next level in terms of nutrition.
One half-cup (92 grams) of cooked quinoa contains 1.4 milligrams of iron (8 percent DV*).
Quinoa is a powerhouse of nutrition that offers an array of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals in every serving. While it’s commonly known as an “ancient grain,” it is technically not a grain or cereal grain — but a seed. Use it as a substitute for pasta or rice to up your iron intake.
A one-third cup (51 grams) of raisins contains 1.4 milligrams of iron (8 percent DV*).
One cup (118 grams) of cooked kale contains 1 milligram of iron (6 percent DV*).
Often hailed as a true superfood, it should come as no surprise that kale is also a stellar source of iron. And besides being among the top foods rich in iron, kale is also high in fiber, vitamin K and vitamin A.
Plus, it’s brimming with vitamin C, which can help boost the absorption of iron even more to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
*Daily Value: Percentages are based on a diet of 2,000 calories a day.
- Iron is an incredibly important mineral that plays a role in red blood cell production, energy levels, healthy fetal development and more.
- Including some of the top iron-rich foods in your diet on a regular basis is absolutely essential to maintaining healthy iron levels in your body.
- Some of the ingredients on the iron-rich foods list include liver, grass-fed beef and eggs.
- There are also a variety of iron-rich foods for vegetarians as well, including leafy greens, beans, lentils and seeds.
- Ideally, you should try to include 2–3 servings of these foods rich in iron daily to ensure that you’re getting enough iron in your diet.
- However, if you suspect that you may have a deficiency, you should consult with your healthcare professional to find a treatment plan that works for you.