Making healthy food choices starts with understanding the nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, that you need to support your health goals. Iron is one of the minerals you need. If you’re struggling with low iron, or you want to prevent yourself from becoming iron deficient, this list of iron-rich foods will help.
The vital role of iron in health and its benefits
The mineral iron works in the body’s production of hemoglobin. This part of your red blood cells carries oxygen to the body, so it directly affects energy as well as growth and development. Hemoglobin, which requires iron, is also an important part of brain development.
People of all ages need adequate iron in their diets to support these functions. The American Society of Hematology estimates that 1.2 billion people around the world are deficient in iron. This condition, known as anemia, can cause people to feel weak or tired, have concentration problems, experience irritability, and have numbness or tingling of the hands, according to Penn Medicine.
Because of the impact on growth and development as well as the uncomfortable symptoms of iron deficiency, getting enough is quite important to your overall health. Luckily, this is a mineral you can get from your food, as long as you don’t have an underlying health issue that makes absorbing iron difficult.
Top iron-rich foods for a balanced diet: How you should consume it
Iron comes naturally from many foods. There are two types of iron you can get from your diet. Heme iron is the type found in meat and fish. The body can easily absorb this type. Non-heme iron is found in plant-based foods and eggs. It’s less easily absorbed by the body.
One way to increase your absorption of iron is to consume iron-containing foods with foods high in vitamin C, such as peppers, sprouts, broccoli, strawberries, citrus fruits, kiwi, and papaya. You can also opt to take a vitamin C supplement with your iron-rich meals if you prefer.
Animal-based iron sources
If you want easy-to-absorb iron, you’ll need to look to animal-based iron sources for heme iron. Heme iron comes from hemoglobin, and you’ll find it in meat and seafood. Most meats are good sources of iron. Red meat is well-known for being a solid source of iron, but it’s also found in chicken, turkey, ham, pork, shrimp, tuna, and lamb.
One food that is particularly rich in iron is liver. A 3.5-ounce serving has 6.5 mg. This is 36% of the recommended daily amount for the average adult.
If you’re a meat eater, consider adding one of these protein sources to every meal. This will increase your iron and ensure you get the easily absorbed type.
Plant-based iron sources
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, don’t worry. You can get ample iron from plant-based sources. This is non-heme iron, so it’s not as easily absorbed. This fact means you should add in the vitamin C rich foods to help with your body’s absorption.
The best fruits, vegetables, and grains to use for non-heme iron include:
- Enriched bread, pasta, and cereal
- Whole-grain breads
- String beans
- Dark leafy greens
- Blackstrap molasses
- Seeds and nuts, except peanuts
- Hemp seeds
Cooking and meal ideas to boost iron intake
So how can you create meals that are practical and iron rich? Here are some easy meal ideas that include foods high in iron and are also tasty.
Steak salad is a great option to add some leafy greens and some red meat to your diet. You can top the salad with raw broccoli, cabbage, and even some hemp seeds to increase the iron content. The addition of peppers will add the vitamin C you need to assist with absorption as well. This makes a very balanced lunch option.
Steak and eggs
Steak and eggs is a healthy, iron-rich breakfast idea. Add some spinach in with the eggs to make it even more nutrient-dense and to get some produce in your meal.
Yes, tacos can be an iron-rich option for your dinner meal. Use ground beef or ground pork to give the meal an iron boost, and add cabbage or dark leafy greens as a topping. Roll them into a whole-grain tortilla to give even more iron to the meal.
One of the beautiful things about soup is that you can add just about anything to it to change up the flavor profile and make it fit your needs. Start with beef or chicken broth, choosing bone broth if possible to get more nutrients. Then, add some protein from the list of foods rich in iron. Include vegetables, such as spinach and peas, and then round it out with an iron-rich legume, like lentils. The spices you add will change the flavor profile to be exactly what you want, changing with your tastes.
Beef and chicken are high in iron, and peppers are high in vitamin C. Making a stir fry with these ingredients will bring both into your diet, and this increases the absorption of the iron. Many stir fry recipes also work well with broccoli, an option that has both vitamin C and iron.
Liver and onions
Liver and onions is a great way to start trying liver, especially if organ meat isn't something you’ve developed a taste for. To make this dish, soak your liver in milk for a while to remove the bitterness. Then, saute some onions in butter until soft. Dredge the liver in a mixture of flour, salt, and pepper, and fry it in the same pan as the onions. Serve together.
Add an iron-rich food to your favorite recipe
You don’t necessarily need to cook recipes specifically for their iron content. You can get a similar benefit by simply adding iron-rich foods to your favorite recipes. For example, do you usually eat manicotti? Consider mixing in some spinach with the cheese before you stuff the noodles.
Start tracking your food with Evidation
As you focus on making smart food choices, including adding more iron into your diet, Evidation can help. You can use the app to reward yourself for smart food choices that support your health goals. You can also use your favorite app to track your water intake and count calories, then earn rewards by pairing these apps with Evidation. Start rewarding your healthy choices with Evidation today.