Nutrition

Which Foods Are Good Sources of Iron?

4 min read

Curious about how to get some more iron in your diet? These foods are all good sources of iron.
Curious about how to get some more iron in your diet? These foods are all good sources of iron.

Essential Takeaways

  • Iron plays an important role in supporting blood health and energy-yielding metabolism.
  • One of the first steps to meeting your daily iron needs is focusing on putting good sources of iron on your plate.

Whether you run in very health-conscious circles or not, chances are you know that getting enough iron is essential in a balanced diet. That’s definitely true: Iron plays aids in hemoglobin production (the protein responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body) as well as red blood cell formation and energy-yielding metabolism.*

This is why iron shortfalls can result in sleepiness and an overall “drained” feeling. And that’s actually pretty common: According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1 in 4 people across the globe aren’t meeting their recommended daily intake for iron. If you’re a woman who is pregnant or menstruating, and/or someone who follows a largely plant-based diet, it might be even tougher to meet your iron needs. (1)

The good news? Filling your diet with good sources of iron can be a great first step—and a quality iron supplement can help fill gaps. But let’s get into some specifics, shall we?*

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What are some good sources of iron worth adding to your diet?

There are two types of iron: heme iron (found in animal products) and non-heme iron (which is typically found in plant foods). While it’s important to have a variety of high iron foods in your diet, iron absorption is typically easier with heme iron. (2)

Looking for foods that are a good source of iron? Here are some foods you’ll definitely want to try:

Spinach

Leafy greens give you a lot of nutritional bang for your buck—and when it comes to getting enough iron, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better leafy green than spinach.

Spinach is a high iron food; 100 grams of raw spinach contains 2.71 mg of iron (3). And while spinach contains non-heme iron, it contains vitamin C, which can help support the absorption of iron. (3,4)

Organ meats

Organ meats can be a great source of heme iron; for example, there are 5mg of iron in a 3 ounce serving of beef liver. (5) Other organ meats (like chicken liver or kidneys) are similarly high in iron.

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are another plant-based food as a good source of iron, with a ¼ cup serving delivering 2.85 mg. (6)

Seafood

As it turns out, the sea is a good resource for iron-containing foods. For example, 3 ounces of oysters contains 8 mg of iron—while the same size serving of sardines will deliver an additional 2 mg of iron. (5)

Legumes

Legumes also tend to be good sources of iron; for example, a 1 cup serving of white beans contains 8 mg of iron—while a ½ cup of lentils has 3mg of iron per serving. And a 1 cup serving of kidney beans? That contains 2 mg. (5)

Need more ideas? Here are some additional foods that are good sources of iron (5):

  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereal, up to 18mg/serving
  • Tofu, 3mg / ½ cup serving
  • Chickpeas, 2mg / ½ cup serving
  • Tomatoes (canned and stewed), 2mg / ½ cup serving
  • Beef (bottom round), 2mg / ½ cup serving
  • Cashews, 2mg / 1 ounce serving

Help fill gaps with iron supplements

While it’s certainly possible to get enough iron from diet alone—particularly if you’re a man or a postmenopausal woman—some of us have higher iron needs than others. Women who are pregnant, lactating, or menstruating should consider using an iron supplement to ensure they hit their recommended dietary allowance (RDA)—and the same goes for those of us who follow largely plant-based diets.

Both Essential for Women (8mg) and Essential Prenatal (18mg) contain a bioavailable form of gentle-chelated iron to help fill gaps in your diet.*

References:

  1. 2018, November 26. WebMD. Top Iron-Rich Food List. Retrieved from WebMD
  2. Iron. (2019, October 28). Retrieved from Harvard School of Public Health
  3. Lane, D. J., & Richardson, D. R. (2014). The active role of vitamin C in mammalian iron metabolism: Much more than just enhanced iron absorption! Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 75, 69–83. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2014.07.007
  4. US Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. 2019, April 1. FoodData Central Food Results: Spinach, Raw. Retrieved from USDA
  5. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Iron Fact Sheet for Consumers. Retrieved from National Institutes of Health
  6. US Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. 2019, April 1. FoodData Central Food Results: Seeds, pumpkin and squash seed kernels, dried. Retrieved from USDA

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