12 Iron-Rich Foods That You Should Tank Up On

Foods High In Iron

Your body needs iron for muscle and brain development. For iron-rich foods, take your pick from red and white meat, seafood, leafy greens, beans, and lentils. Fruits like mulberries, Zante currants, raisins also add up. The surprising contenders include tomato puree, potatoes with skin, cumin seeds, and even dark chocolate.

Your body pumps iron just as meticulously as the next door fitness fanatic! After all, every single cell in your body contains iron and uses this crucial nutrient to help transport oxygen from your blood to your tissues and lungs. If your iron levels are not optimal, your cells won’t get enough oxygen and you can become anemic. An iron-poor diet can also make you feel lethargic, lightheaded, and sluggish – and that’s probably not how you want to feel through the day! The human body cannot produce iron, so you need to rely on food sources to get enough iron in. The good news is that iron occurs naturally in many food sources so you can derive all the iron you need through a well-balanced diet. If you are gunning for an iron-rich diet, we have the top contenders lined up for you.

The recommended intake of iron for adult men aged 50 and under is 8 mg while for women that age it is 18 mg. If you’re pregnant, you need to increase intake to 27 mg. All adults, male and female, over 50 need to have just 8 mg of iron a day. Do keep in mind, though, that if you’re purely eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, you may need as much as twice the amount of iron every day.1 That’s because iron is available as readily usable heme iron in animal sources while non-heme iron from vegan sources is less easily used by your body.2 To compensate for the poorer absorption of non-heme iron, you will need to up your intake further. That said, the % DV that follows assumes 18 mg intake for an adult, which means if you are an adult male, or a woman over 50, this DV already accommodates for the vegetarian diet. If you are pregnant or a female adult under 50, you should consider higher intake of the foods basis your diet.3

The following list will give you an idea of how much iron you’ll find in a typical serving of food. In addition, the percentage daily value (DV) will help you get a sense of how much of your daily requirement it meets. A % DV of 20 and up is very good. At present, the recommended daily value (DV) for iron is set to 18 mg a day for adults.4 For pregnant women and lactating mothers, this number is, however, 27 mg.5 Now go on and dive into this list to pump some iron!

1. Organ Meat

3 ounce serving of lamb kidneys: 10.54 of iron (58.5% DV)

This may not be for the faint-hearted but organ meats like kidney and liver are your best bet when it comes to loading up on iron. Here’s how they stack up:

  • A 3 ounce serving of lamb kidneys offers you 10.54 of iron (58.5% DV)
  • A 3 ounce serving of beef kidneys: 4.93 mg of iron (27% DV)
  • A 3 ounce serving of pork kidneys: 4.5 mg of iron (25% DV) 6 7Basic Report: 10107, Pork, fresh, variety meats and by-products, kidneys, cooked, braised. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.[/ref]
  • A 3 ounce serving of pan-fried beef liver: 5 mg of iron (28% DV)8
  • A 3 ounce serving of lamb liver: 8.67 mg (48% DV)9

2. Seafood

3 ounce serving of Eastern oysters: 8 mg iron (44% DV)

Many kinds of seafood are rich in iron so if they are a regular part of your diet, you’re in luck. And of course, they are not too shabby when it comes to flavor and yum quotient! From soups and stews to salads and pasta, seafood can take pride of place in a variety of amazing dishes. You could also stuff them into a sandwich or taco. And who can resist a feisty seafood stir-fry?

  • A 3 ounce serving of Eastern oysters: 8 mg iron (44% DV)10
  • A 3 ounce serving of octopus: 8.11 mg iron (45% DV)11
  • A 3 ounce serving of canned clams: 2.39 mg of iron (13.2% DV)12
  • A 3 ounce serving of Atlantic sardines canned in oil: 2 mg iron (11% DV).13

3. Spinach And Other Dark Leafy Greens

Half a cup of boiled spinach: 3.2 mg of iron (17% DV)

An absolute superfood, spirulina seaweed is an iron powerhouse, with a tablespoon of the dried weed giving you 2 mg of iron. That’s 11% of your DV right there.14

Green vegetables are an excellent source of non-heme iron.15 This form of iron, as you know, isn’t absorbed as easily by your body as heme iron. So if your goal is to derive your dietary iron primarily from vegetables, you need to eat of a variety of greens to make sure you’re getting enough iron. And it’s not going to be tough at all because you are just going to be spoilt for choice!

  • Half a cup of boiled spinach has 3.2 mg of iron – that’s about 17% DV.16
  • Other greens like kale and collard greens deliver 3.3–6% DV. Half a cup of kale has 0.59 mg of iron and a similar amount of collard greens have 1.075 mg.1718
  • Half a cup of broccoli offers you 0.52 mg or nearly 3% DV of iron.19

4. Red Meat

A serving of beef steak: 2.83 mg of iron (16% DV)

Nuts and seeds can also add to your iron quotient. Pumpkin and squash seeds give you 2.50 mg of iron (13.8% DV) per ounce.20 Cashew nuts aren’t far behind, with 1.89 mg iron (10.5% DV) per ounce serving. A 1 ounce serving of sesame seeds gives you 1.8 mg of iron (10% DV).

If organ meat makes you squeamish but you still want to look at heme iron sources, turn to red meat. This is the type of iron your body can absorb easily. Have these in moderation as part of a balanced diet and you tank up on iron too. A 3 ounce serving of beef steak braised has 2.83 mg of iron or 16% DV.21

If you love a good lamb souvlaki or roast lamb, you’ll also be getting between 1.3–2.1 mg of iron (7 to 12% DV) on average depending on the cut.22 A 3 ounce serving of roasted shoulder of lamb should fetch you 1.67 mg of iron – that’s 9% of your DV. Go for a 3 ounce serving of braised lamb cubes (from the leg and shoulder) and you have 2.38 mg of iron or 11% DV.23

Prefer your meat ground up? Choose from beef or lamb – they both taste equally good. Or mix it up a little and use a bit of both. A 3 ounce serving of broiled ground lamb meat can give you 1.52 mg of iron (8.4% DV).24 The same amount of broiled ground beef will give you 1.91 mg of iron (10.6% DV).25

  • A serving of beef steak: 2.83 mg of iron (16% DV)
  • A serving of lamb cubes: 2.38 mg of iron (11% DV)
  • A serving of ground beef: 1.91 mg of iron (10.6% DV)
  • A serving of ground lamb: 1.52 mg of iron (8.4% DV)
  • A serving of lamb shoulder: 1.67 mg of iron (9% DV)

5. Tomato Puree

1 cup of tomato puree: 4.45 mg of iron (25% DV)

1 cup of tomato puree: 4.45 mg of iron (25% DV)

While raw tomatoes do not have not too much iron, tomato paste and sundried tomatoes concentrate the nutrition and you get much more out of a smaller serving. A cup of tomato puree, for instance, has 4.45 mg of iron – that’s nearly 25% DV of iron.26 Use the puree as a base for your pasta sauce, stews, or curries. If you enjoy sundried tomatoes, half a cup of them has 2.5 mg of iron (14% DV).27

6. Poultry

3 ounce serving of chicken or turkey: 1 mg of iron (6% DV)

  • 3 ounce serving of roast duck: 3.78 mg of iron (21% DV)
  • 3 ounce serving of chicken or turkey: 1 mg of iron (6% DV)

Ever-so-versatile poultry products are packed with iron, too! A 3 ounce serving of roasted chicken gives you roughly 1 mg of iron, as does a 3 ounce serving of dark turkey meat, meeting 6% of your DV. A 3 ounce serving of roast duck gets you 3.78 mg of iron (21% DV).28 From a plain grill or pan-fried main to sandwich and taco filling, poultry can lend itself well to many recipes. If you are a die-hard eggetarian, this is also a great way to get iron into your body. One large egg offers about 0.6 mg of iron (3.3% DV).29 Putting an egg on pretty much anything makes it that much yummier, so egg away!

7. Beans And Lentils

Half a cup of cooked kidney beans: 2.6 gm of iron (14.4% DV)

Legumes are a great source of dietary iron which comes in handy if you’re vegetarian or vegan. Half a cup of cooked lentils will offer you 3 mg of iron, meeting 16% of the DV. Beans aren’t further behind! Here’s how some varieties of beans stack up:

  • Half a cup of cooked soybeans: 4 gm of iron (22% DV)
  • Half a cup of cooked kidney beans: 2.6 gm of iron (14.4% DV)
  • Half a cup of cooked chickpeas has 2 mg of iron (11% DV)

It also doesn’t hurt that beans and lentils are high in fiber, magnesium, potassium, and folate and that they have anti-inflammatory properties.30 31 Cook up an Indian style creamy curry or stuff your beans into tacos. And of course, a hearty bean chili can hit the right notes any day!

8. Potatoes With Skin

A single large baked potato with skin: 3.23 mg of iron (18% DV)

Whole grains like quinoa can also round up iron for you. Just one cup of cooked quinoa gives you nearly 3 mg of iron or 17% of your DV.32 Substitute quinoa for rice in most recipes. Not only is it healthier, it’s also fluffier and more textured than rice, and high in fiber, keeping you feeling full longer.

Potatoes are a good source of iron but only if you don’t toss out the skin. Much of the iron they contain is in the skin itself, so scrub down those potatoes and bake them or roast them in their skin for an iron-packed recipe. A single large baked potato (299 gm), eaten skin and all, gives you 3.23 mg of iron (18% DV), while a medium-sized potato (173 gm) has 1.87 mg of iron (10.4% DV).33 Skip the skin and you stand to get around 0.55 mg or just 3% DV of iron from a medium- sized vegetable, weighing around 156 gm.34

9. Mulberries

One cup of mulberries: 2.59 m (14.3% DV)

One cup of mulberries: 2.59 mg (14.3% DV)

Mulberries have a strong sweet-sour flavor and lend themselves well to jellies, jams, and puddings. One cup of these berries can give you 2.59 mg or 14.3% DV. You could gobble them up plain or savor them fresh with a little cream and sugar.35

10. Zante Currants And Raisins

Half a cup of Zante currants: 2.34 mg iron (13% DV)

Many breakfasts cereals come fortified with iron, fulfilling all or most of your recommended daily iron requirement. Depending on the brand of cereal you buy, just one serving size can provide anywhere from 4 to 18 mg of iron! One cup of enriched oatmeal, for instance, can offer about 13 mg of iron.36 So the next time you’re shopping for your family’s breakfast cereal, look carefully at the nutrition label to see what percentage of your daily recommended iron it contains.

Zante currants are a small, dark dried grape with an intense flavor. Jams, sorbets, summer puddings, all do well with this rich fruit. Regular raisins, meanwhile, also make the cut when it comes to their iron content and are a great addition to a trail mix, rice puddings, or even stuffed pancakes.37 38 Here’s how the two stack up:

  • Half a cup of Zante currants: 2.34 mg iron (13% DV)
  • Half a cup of raisins: 1.36 mg iron (7.5% DV)

11. Dark Chocolate

One-ounce portion of dark chocolate: 2.27 mg of iron (12.6% DV)

If you’re looking to increase your iron levels, you should also try to consume foods rich in vitamin C which facilitates better iron absorption.39 Think of foods like oranges, grapefruit, cantaloupe, and strawberries.

Dark chocolate is a fairly good source of iron. Yes, we’re not complaining about that one! A one ounce portion of dark chocolate (45%–59% cacao solids) will give you about 2.27 mg of iron – that’s about 12.6% of your DV.40 Don’t go overboard though, because it is, after all, chocolate and is thus high in calories as well as saturated fats. Stick to a couple of squares a day to add to your iron intake. Added bonus: consuming just 1–2 squares of dark chocolate daily has also been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. So it’s a win-win.41

12. Cumin Seeds

Herbs like parsley and lemongrass can contribute to your iron intake too. A cup of chopped parsley has 3.72 mg of iron, so having a quarter of that amount in a meal will give you 5% DV of iron.42 A quarter cup of chopped lemongrass has 1.3 mg of iron (7% DV).43

How about some spice power as you chalk up the iron? Just one teaspoon of cumin seeds gives you 1.39 mg of iron, which is about 7.2% DV. How’s that for some pint-sized goodness! Cumin also contains other important nutrients like vitamins A, B, C, E, and K and potassium, copper, and calcium, though in smaller amounts. Toss cumin seeds on a hot pan till they release a warm aroma and use to flavor soups, stews, and curries.44

References   [ + ]

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34. Potatoes, baked, flesh, without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
35. Basic Report: 09190, Mulberries, raw. United States Department of Agriculture.
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37. Basic Report: 09085, Currants, zante, dried. United States Department of Agriculture.
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42. Parsley, fresh. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
43. Lemon grass (citronella), raw. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
44. Cumin Seeds. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.