Foods High in Iron
Iron is an essential mineral for the human body to function properly. Its most important use is to serve as a component in the production and use of red blood cells. These red blood cells are what carry oxygen throughout your body and supply it to your various organs. Without enough iron in your body, you could end up feeling fatigued, and your body’s immune system weakens, which can lead to even more complications such as sickness. Iron also helps maintain healthy skin, hair, and nails, which is why people with iron deficiency tend to look pale and unhealthy.
The required daily intake of iron varies from person to person, though there are some important things to remember. Generally, older people tend to require more iron in any given day than those younger than them. Adult men can get away with consuming just 8mg of iron a day to get their daily dose. But for women, it’s not as easy. Because of their monthly periods, women require around 18mg of iron a day, more than double that of what men need on a daily basis.
If you’re looking to find ways to add iron to your diet without having to buy supplements from your local pharmacy, we’ve got a list of different kinds of food that are rich in iron and are perfect to keep you healthy and active.
1. Organ Meats
One of the best ways to meet your daily nutritional requirements such as iron is to consume organ meats. Organ meats are full of nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, vitamins such as vitamin A and K, and of course, iron. To give an example, beef liver has around 6.5mg of iron per 100g serving, which is almost enough for an adult male. What makes these meats an even better choice as an iron source is that they contain heme iron.
Heme iron is one of the two main dietary iron types – it is found in meat, poultry, and seafood products. It is the easier type for iron for your body to absorb. The other type of dietary iron is called non-heme iron, which can be found in plants and plant-based foods. We’ll come back to non-heme iron later in the article.
There are tons of great dishes you can make with organ meats, which could make it easier for you to consume them if you’re not used to eating them. You can grind or chop them and mix them with other meats too if you want to enjoy them as a burger or part of a salad. If you aren’t on a vegetarian diet, then organ meats are the go-to food for your iron needs.
2. Red Meat
Aside from organ meats, red meat is another great alternative for your iron intakes. If you don’t fancy eating organs for your nutritional needs, then red meat can provide similar benefits with the added familiarity and taste. Red meats include beef, pork, lamb, mutton, and veal, among others. There are many options, and even more dishes that can be prepared with them, so you’ll never have to get bored with eating the same thing every day.
Apart from its taste and its richness in iron (beef has a whopping 2.6mg per 100g serving), it’s also a great source of protein, an important nutrient for muscle growth. Go for red meat if you’re also looking to gain some muscle mass in the process.
Seafood lovers rejoice, as the sea offers sources of iron as well. One of the most notable among these sources would be shellfish, such as clams and oysters. Clams boast the highest iron concentrations, with 28mg of iron from a 100g serving. That’s a lot more than your required daily intake, so having even tiny servings of clams and oysters should be enough coupled with other iron-rich foods.
Just like red meat, shellfish contain decent amounts of protein, which is always great. What sets them apart from red meat, though, is the presence of omega-3 fatty acids. These acids provide multiple benefits to the human body, including improved eye health, reduced heart disease, and fight inflammation. There have even been studies that show that omega-3 fatty acids help deal with anxiety and depression. If you want the high amounts of iron from small servings, try adding shellfish to your daily diet.
Shellfish isn’t the only seafood that contains iron. Sardines are another potent source of iron, with a decent 2.9mg per 100g serving. Of course, it also contains other beneficial nutrients essential to the human body, such as protein, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. Just like shellfish, sardines also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which make both food options quite similar in terms of nutritional benefit.
What makes sardines a great option, though, is its affordability. Sardines are generally a lot cheaper than shellfish, being a more common delicacy than the latter. They are also much easier to prepare, with the simplest option being eating straight from the can. Sardines can make for a great substitute in place of shellfish if you’re on a tight budget.
Our final non-vegan option on the list is egg, a popular poultry product that is used often in many recipes, from cooking to baking. While it’s most well-known for its high protein concentrations, eggs do contain a substantial amount of iron, with 1.2mg found per 100g of your average boiled eggs. You don’t get as much iron from eggs as you would from something like shellfish, but eggs are a great addition to a lot of meals, so finding a way to add it to your diet shouldn’t be too difficult.
And if you’re worried about any possible health risks related to eggs, don’t be. This is because while it contains somewhat high amounts of cholesterol, it does not lead to cholesterol-related diseases and problems. Modern science has shown us that saturated fat contributes more to your body’s cholesterol levels than food cholesterol itself. In fact, a study on almost half a million people pointed out that having one egg a day decreased one’s chances of stroke and heart disease when paired with a healthy diet. Eggs aren’t as harmful to the body as previously thought, and are even beneficial to it in certain ways as well, so having it in your diet wouldn’t hurt.
If you’re on a vegetarian, vegan, or a similar diet, then there are still plenty of options to choose from for your daily dose of iron. One of the most popular non-meat foods that contain iron is none other than the meat substitute tofu. The food contains a healthy amount of 5.4mg per 100g serving, which means that it contains almost double the amount of protein you’d find in an egg.
But there’s a catch. Remember how I mentioned earlier that there are two types of dietary iron? And that the first type, heme iron, is found in meat, poultry, and seafood? Well, there exists another type of dietary iron, known as non-heme iron. Non-heme iron is found primarily in plant-based foods, including tofu. Non-heme iron isn’t as effective as heme iron in the sense that your body can’t as much non-heme iron as it could for heme iron, which means that you’ll need to take care of your iron levels if you’re on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Broccoli is a nutritious vegetable with multiple health benefits. It is a great source of dietary fiber for healthy digestion and lower cholesterol levels. It also contains vitamins C and K, which help in clotting blood and healing wounds. Like all the other foods in this list, it contains iron – though not in as high concentrations as the others. Broccoli contains only 0.7mg per 100g serving, so it may not be the best source of iron for adults and especially women.
While broccoli may not be the best in terms of iron dosage, it’s enough (when paired with iron-rich foods) for kids, who need less than the 8mg required from an adult male. Young kids can meet their daily requirements with just 4mg a day. And with the numerous health benefits that come from broccoli, it makes for a great meal to serve developing children.
Spinach is another vegetable that contains iron, and it has more of it than broccoli. You can get around 2.7mg of iron from a 100g serving, which is almost 4 times the amount of iron found in broccoli. The vegetable has a lot more to offer than just iron though, with ample amounts of chlorophyll and carotenoids in each serving. Chlorophyll has various benefits, such as boosting your immune system, detoxifying blood, and more. Carotenoids such as beta carotene convert into other nutrients such as vitamin A.
Don’t just start chugging down those greens as Popeye does in the comics, though. Spinach contains oxalate, a substance that, when in high concentrations, is known to inhibit other nutrients such as calcium and iron. Just make sure to consume spinach in controlled amounts, and you’re good to go.
Nuts are a great way to get your daily iron dosages through snacks in-between meals. Nuts vary in the amount of iron they contain, with cashew nuts having as much as 6.7mg per 100g serving. Other nuts, such as Brazil nuts, only contain 2.4mg per 100g serving. You can snack on most kinds of nuts and get iron either way, so just make sure to look up how much iron they provide. Alternatively, you can mix them together if you’re looking for some variance in the flavor.
Nuts also serve as edible supplements. They are full of vitamin E, which is linked with skin health benefits, and minerals such as Magnesium, copper, selenium, manganese, and a whole lot more. Magnesium helps with bone formation, copper aids in the production of blood cells, selenium contains antioxidant properties, and manganese is used in connective tissues. Try having nuts regularly as a snack to get these benefits.
Legumes are plant-based foods that grow from the ground, unlike nuts, which generally grow on trees and bushes. That includes peanuts, which, contrary to popular belief, aren’t nuts at all. Even though legumes are grown differently, they provide iron in small, edible packages like nuts. Green peas offer around 1.5mg of iron per 100g serving, while raw pinto beans can give you more than 5mg with the same amount. What makes legumes different from nuts in terms of consumption, though, is that instead of it being consumed as a snack, it is more popularly eaten as part of a meal, or even a substitute to meat.
Legumes, like nuts, are chock-full of minerals that can help out your body. They contain calcium, magnesium, and potassium. We already know magnesium aids in bone formation, and calcium serves the same purpose as well. Meanwhile, potassium is useful in regulating blood pressure.
11. Fortified Cereals
A breakfast favorite, breakfast cereals can also serve as a source of iron, if you aren’t willing to add any of the foods listed so far to your diet. Regular breakfast cereal contains around 4.3mg of iron per 100g serving (for reference, the recommended servings of many cereal brands is around 30g). A lot of brands fortify their cereal with minerals, though, and you can get even higher amounts from them. Some brands contain as much as 34mg per 100g serving, meaning that you can get your daily dose from a bowl or two of the stuff. Go for cereal as your main iron source if you don’t want to change up your usual diet too much.
Remember that iron is vital for your body to function properly. It helps with blood cell formation and healthy skin, nails, and hair. It can’t be produced in the body itself, so you need to make sure your diet incorporates healthy doses of it every day, or else you’ll feel fatigued and sickly. Make sure you add these foods to your diet to get your required amount of iron and to keep yourself healthy.