Need more iron? Try these 17 food sources

Whether you like to pump iron at the gym or pump your legs on the treadmill, getting enough iron into your body is vital.

From transporting oxygen to muscles to helping build connective tissue to supporting basic cell function, iron is essential for a healthy body.

Fortunately, getting enough of this key mineral is easy when you know which foods are high in iron.

What is iron?

Iron is a naturally occurring mineral and an essential nutrient. This means our bodies need it to function normally but cannot make it themselves.

So it must be consumed in the diet. Fortunately, many foods contain iron — including meat and plant sources — as well as a variety of foods that have been fortified with iron.

Heme vs Non-Heme Iron

There are two main forms of dietary iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found in red meat, poultry and seafood, while non-heme iron is mainly found in plant foods.

Another key difference: Heme iron offers higher bioavailability, which makes it easier for the body to absorb, explains Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD.

To help your body absorb non-heme iron, pair it with animal products or plant-based foods that contain vitamin C, Giancoli says.

Both help make non-heme iron better available for absorption.

Fortunately, your body doesn’t differentiate between how it uses heme and non-heme iron. So whether you’re a vegetarian or a carnivore, it’s possible to get all the iron your body needs.

What does iron do for the body?

Body chalk outlines next to high iron foods  Foods high in iron

“Iron plays an essential role in many functions in the body,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. “This includes helping to make hemoglobin which transports oxygen throughout the body, as well as playing a role in making some of the body’s hormones and connective tissue.”

Iron is also necessary for growth and development, normal cell function, and the formation of myoglobin, a protein that helps deliver oxygen to muscles.

How much iron do I need?

The amount of iron you need depends on many factors, including your age, gender, and diet.

For adult men, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 8 milligrams per day.

Adult, premenopausal women, however, need significantly more iron — 18 milligrams per day — than is lost due to menstruation.

The RDA is about twice as high for vegetarians and vegans, as non-heme iron from plants provides less bioavailability.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set its own Daily Value (DV) for labeling foods based on their maximum RDA value.

So the DV for iron is 18 milligrams for Americans over age 4.

Can you get too much iron?

“It’s possible to get too much iron, but usually not from food,” explains Giancoli. “The gut helps regulate iron absorption, so unless you have some kind of malabsorption in your gut, it’s very difficult to get too much iron from food.”

Iron supplements are often the culprit in rare cases of iron overload and can cause gastric upset, constipation, nausea, abdominal pain, nausea and fainting.

How do I know if I have an iron deficiency?

Although iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the United States, it is still relatively rare.

Adolescent girls and women with heavy menstrual flow, pregnant women, regular blood donors and certain groups with cancer, heart failure or gastrointestinal disorders face a high risk of iron deficiency.

Studies have also shown that certain ethnic groups, such as black and Mexican-American women, face a higher risk.

“Insufficient iron can go undetected until you get blood work done,” says Giancoli

On the other hand, a true iron deficiency can often lead to iron deficiency anemia and more severe symptoms, explains Gorin. “Symptoms of anemia include feeling tired, pale skin, irritability, low appetite and light-headedness.”

Severe anemia can lead to gastrointestinal problems, poor cognitive function and immune function, and problems regulating one’s own body temperature.

If you are concerned that you may have an iron deficiency, ask your doctor for a blood test.

16. Good source of iron

So what iron food sources should you consume to keep your body functioning optimally?

According to the FDA, a food can be considered a “good source” of iron if it contains 20 percent or more of the DV (3.6 milligrams) and 10 to 19. percent of the DV (1.8 to 3.5 mg).

Whether you’re a meat eater, veggie lover, or both, there are a variety of iron-rich foods that can help you meet your body’s daily needs.

1. Liver

Liver  Foods high in iron

Iron: changes Worship: 3 oz., cooked

Liver may not be part of your usual weeknight dinner rotation, but you’ll get 10 milligrams of iron from chicken liver and 6 milligrams from braised beef liver.

2. Tofu

tofu |  Foods high in iron

Iron: 7 mg Worship: ½ cup, raw

This same serving of tofu provides 10 grams of protein and 40 percent of the DV for calcium.

3. Breakfast cereal

Bran cereal  Foods high in iron

Iron: changes Worship: Varies based on concentration

Many breakfast cereals are protected with 100 percent (or more) of the DV for iron. Be sure to check the label to make sure it’s low in sugar, too.

4. Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate  Foods high in iron

Iron: 3.4 mg Worship: 1 aj.

Twist our arms — one ounce of dark chocolate (70-85 percent cacao solids) is 19 percent of your RDA if you’re a woman and 43 percent if you’re a man.

5. Beef

Slices of beef  Foods high in iron

Iron: changes Worship: 3 oz., cooked

Red meat is a good source of iron, but the amount depends on the cut. A serving of chuck provides 3 mg of iron, while the same amount of ground beef contains 2.5 mg.

6. Oysters

Raw oyster dish  Foods high in iron

Iron: 8 mg Worship: 3 oz., cooked

Three ounces of eastern oysters (also known as Atlantic oysters, Virginia oysters, or American oysters) are an excellent source of iron, and the zinc content is off the charts.

7. White beans

White beans  Foods high in iron

Iron: 4 mg Worship: ½ cup, canned

Half a cup of canned white beans such as cannellini or great northern beans is an excellent source of iron with 10 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber.

8. Morel mushrooms

Morel mushrooms  Foods high in iron

Iron: 4 mg Worship: ½ cup, raw

Look for morel mushrooms, well known for their honeycomb appearance, fresh at farmers markets in mid- to late spring or dried at your local grocery store.

9. Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds  Foods high in iron

Iron: 3 mg Worship: 1 oz., dry

Not only are they high in iron, pumpkin seeds also contain healthy amounts of magnesium, zinc and copper and contain more protein than carbohydrates.

10. Lentils

Lentils  Foods high in iron

Iron: 3 mg Worship: ½ cup, cooked

For added convenience, look for pre-cooked lentils in the refrigerated section of your grocery store to add to salads, sides or soups.

11. Spinach

Spinach bowl  Foods high in iron

Iron: 3 mg Worship: ½ cup, cooked

Pope went to do something! Mix spinach with scrambled eggs or serve with roast chicken to help your body use this source of non-heme iron more efficiently.

12. Kidney beans

Kidney beans  Foods high in iron

Iron: 3 mg Worship: ½ cup, cooked

Add kidney beans to your next batch of chili, soup, or curry, and you’ll not only get a good source of iron, but also 8 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber.

13. Sardines

Sardines  Foods high in iron

Iron: 3 mg Worship: 3.75 oz., canned

Drain the oil and add the sardines to pizza, pasta dishes or homemade Caesar dressing.

14. Chickpeas

Chickpeas  Foods high in iron

Iron: 2 mg Worship: ½ cup, cooked

Whether you call them chickpeas or garbanzo beans, pop them in the oven with spices for a crunchy snack or make your own DIY hummus.

15. Potatoes

Sweet potato  Foods high in iron

Iron: 2 mg Worship: 1 large potato, baked

You need to eat the whole potato (flesh and skin!) to get a full complement of iron.

16. Rich egg noodles

Egg noodles  Foods high in iron

Iron: 2 mg Worship: 1 cup, cooked

Generally whole-grain pasta is preferable, but the added iron (as well as thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and folic acid) makes egg noodles a good source of the mineral.

17. Cashews

Cashew nuts  Foods high in iron

Iron: 2 mg Worship: 1 aj.

Roasted or raw, cashews are not only a good source of iron, but also heart-healthy fats.

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