Iron Rich Foods: 20+ Healthy Foods That Are High in Iron

Iron is a vital nutrient that comes from the food you eat and plays a crucial role in various bodily functions, notably preventing anemia. One of its key functions is in the production of hemoglobin, a molecule present in your red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout your body.

While your body can store iron, it cannot produce it on its own. The sole way to obtain iron is through your diet.

Why do I need iron?

Iron is a mineral essential for creating hemoglobin, which is crucial for carrying oxygen in your red blood cells to all parts of your body. Babies and children require iron for healthy growth and development, including brain development.

The amount of iron needed daily depends on factors like your age, gender, pregnancy or breastfeeding status, and the sources of iron-rich foods you consume.

What are the different forms of iron?

There are two types of iron in foods:

  1. Heme iron: Found in meat, fish, and poultry, this type is easily absorbed by your body.
  2. Non-heme iron: Present in eggs and plant-based foods like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and some vegetables. It is also added to certain foods. However, your body doesn’t absorb non-heme iron as effectively.

You can enhance the absorption of non-heme iron by consuming it with heme iron or foods rich in vitamin C. Examples of vitamin C-rich foods include red, yellow, and green peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, snow peas, papaya, kiwi fruit, strawberries, oranges, and grapefruit.

What happens if I don’t get enough iron?

Insufficient iron intake can lead to iron deficiency. This condition occurs when your iron levels drop too low and can result in:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating

Severe iron deficiency may lead to anemia.

If you suspect iron deficiency, consult your doctor. They may conduct blood tests, refer you to a dietitian, or recommend iron supplements.

Foods rich in heme iron

You can find plenty of iron in various foods. Here are some sources of heme iron:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Clams
  • Eggs
  • Lamb
  • Ham
  • Turkey
  • Veal
  • Pork
  • Liver
  • Shrimp
  • Tuna
  • Sardines
  • Haddock
  • Mackerel
  • Oysters
  • Scallops

It’s recommended to include a source of protein with each meal to help meet your daily iron needs, according to Zumpano.

Foods rich in non-heme iron

If you’re looking for more iron-rich foods, here’s a list of non-heme iron options:

Iron-rich legumes:

  • Dried or canned peas and beans (kidney, garbanzo, cannellini, and soybeans)
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh (fermented soybeans)

Iron-rich bread and cereal:

  • Enriched white bread
  • Enriched pasta
  • Wheat products
  • Bran cereals
  • Cornmeal
  • Oat cereals
  • Cream of Wheat™
  • Rye bread
  • Enriched rice
  • Whole-wheat bread

Iron-rich fruits:

  • Figs
  • Dates
  • Raisins
  • Prunes and prune juice

Iron-rich vegetables:

  • Broccoli
  • String beans
  • Dark leafy greens, like dandelion, collard, kale, and spinach
  • Potatoes
  • Cabbage and Brussels sprouts
  • Tomato paste

Other foods rich in iron

  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Pistachios
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Pine nuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Hemp seeds

If you opt not to consume meat and fish, it’s advised to include plant-based sources of protein, such as legumes, nuts, seeds, and tofu with each meal. Additionally, pairing non-heme iron foods with vitamin C-rich options like citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, and spinach can enhance iron absorption.

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