Iron-Rich Food

Iron is a mineral needed for healthy blood and is found naturally in many foods, added to others and available as a dietary supplement. It is an important component of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, and myoglobin, which transports oxygen to muscle tissue. Iron also supports normal brain function, cognitive ability and cellular development and production of certain hormones. Iron deficiency is common and can be a major cause of fatigue. Iron deficiency may affect certain groups of people more than others, including pregnant women and children. A variety of other conditions and illnesses can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iron.

The best source of iron is from meat, poultry and fish. These sources provide heme iron, which is better absorbed than non-heme iron from plant foods. The most common plant-based sources of iron are beans and lentils (kidney, garbanzo, black-eyed peas and cannellini), whole grains, nuts, seeds and leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale. Iron can also be found in fortified breads, breakfast cereals and infant formulas.

These foods can help you meet your daily requirements for the mineral, but it’s a good idea to consume iron from a variety of sources to prevent health issues such as constipation and diarrhea. Choosing the right foods can also make it easier to reach the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for iron, which is 45 mg a day for men and women age 14 and older.

When consuming iron-rich foods, look for the amount in milligrams per serving on the label. The lower number, called elemental iron, is the form that’s easily absorbed by the body. The higher number is the chemical form that’s bound to salts and minerals, such as ferrous sulfate or ferric citrate.

If you choose to take an iron supplement, check the dosage on the bottle and use only as directed by a doctor. High doses of iron can be harmful and lead to toxic effects.

If you are an omnivore, your diet should include plenty of lean meats, chicken, fish and eggs. Organ meats like liver, kidney and heart are rich in iron, as well as B vitamins, zinc, selenium and protein. Poultry contains less iron than red meat, but it still provides a good source of this nutrient. Eggs are another protein source that offers iron and vitamins A, B12 and D. Beans and lentils are rich in both heme and non-heme iron. They’re also an excellent source of plant-based protein, fiber, folate and magnesium. Leafy greens also offer a range of nutrients. When eating these foods, try to pair them with a food that contains vitamin C, which helps boost iron absorption.