Iron is an essential trace mineral that is vital for specific functions in the body. It is responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. About 70 percent of the iron in your body is stored in the red blood cells. Iron is an essential nutrient — meaning, the body is unable to make it. Therefore, it must be obtained from the foods we eat. Iron deficiency is one of the most common types of nutrient deficiencies. People who are deficient in iron are at risk of developing a condition called anemia in which there are not enough healthy red blood cells in the body. Symptoms of anemia include fatigue, weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness, pale skin, and sleep disturbances. The following ten foods are rich in iron, so add them to your diet to ensure that you are meeting your recommended daily intake every day.
Shellfish, in general, is an excellent source of iron — especially clams, oysters, and mussels. The recommended daily intake (RDI) of iron for the average adult is 18 milligrams (mg). One 3-oz serving of clams contains 23.8 mg of iron, which is 132% of your RDI. Clams are also an incredibly rich source of vitamin B12, with 1401% of your RDI in just one serving. Clams are also an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, B vitamins, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.
Organ meats such as beef liver are incredibly nutritious foods with various nutrition profiles. One 3-oz serving of beef liver contains 5.4 mg of iron, which is 30% of your RDI. Beef liver also contains incredibly high levels of both vitamin A and vitamin B12, with 534% and 987% of your RDI of each vitamin in a 3-oz serving, respectively. Beef liver is a great source of protein as well, and when eaten in moderation, can be a perfect nutritious addition to your diet.
If you’re looking for a non-animal source of iron, legumes contain some of the highest levels of this trace element. Soybeans come in first place with 8.8 mg or 49% of your RDI of iron in a one-cup serving. Lentils are a close second with 6.6 mg or 37% of your RDI of iron in one cup. Other iron-rich legumes include chickpeas, black-eyed peas, lima beans, kidney beans, and navy beans. Not only are legumes rich in iron, but they are also excellent sources of many other essential macro- and micro-nutrients including protein, fiber, folate, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, manganese, and many healthy plant compounds.
Dark, Leafy Green Vegetables
Spinach, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, beet greens — most dark leafy green vegetables are good sources of iron. Not only are they rich in iron, but leafy greens are filled with many essential vitamins and minerals as well as disease-fighting and antioxidant plant compounds. One cup of cooked spinach contains 6.4 mg of iron or 36% of your RDI. It also contains 377% of your RDI of vitamin A, 1111% of your RDI of vitamin K, 66% of your RDI of folate, in addition to calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese.
Who knew that such a tiny food could provide so many essential nutrients? Certain seeds are excellent sources of iron — especially pumpkin, sesame, hemp, and flax seeds. One ounce (28 g) of sesame seeds provides 4.1 mg of iron, which is 23% of your RDI. The same amount of hemp seeds contains 2.7 mg of iron, while pumpkin and flax seeds contain 2 mg, and 1.6 mg of iron, respectively. Seeds also provide many other important nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds. They are known to reduce inflammation and to aid the body in fighting off chronic disease and cancer.
Beef is an excellent source of heme iron, and an outstanding food to eat if you are prone to anemia. Heme iron is the type of iron found in blood and muscle — in other words; it’s only available in animal foods. Heme iron is absorbed more quickly by the body than nonheme iron. This is good because it prevents anemia; however, too much heme iron can increase oxidative stress. This is why meat should be eaten in moderation. A 3-oz serving of meat — depending on the cut and the fat content — contains 2.4-2.7 mg of iron or around 15% of your RDI.
Another great plant-based source of iron, oats are nutritious, filling, and versatile, and make for a delicious breakfast any day. One cup of oatmeal made from old-fashioned oats, or steel cut oats, contains 3.4 mg of iron, or 19% of your RDI. Oats are also an excellent source of dietary fiber and protein, so a bowl of this stuff in the morning will keep you full and satisfied for many hours after eating. Oats are also rich in essential minerals magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.
This superfood has made waves in the health food world due to its unique taste, texture, and nutritional profile. Called a “pseudocereal,” quinoa may look and taste like a grain, but it’s actually a seed. Quinoa is rich in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 2.8 mg iron, which is 15% of your RDI. Prepared as a main course or served as a side, quinoa is the perfect addition to any meal. It’s nutty taste, and versatility makes it a favorite in many households, so be sure to add it to your repertoire.
If you’re a chocoholic, luck is on your side. Not only is dark chocolate an excellent source of iron, but it’s also filled with many important disease-fighting antioxidants. One ounce of dark chocolate contains 3.3 mg of iron or about 18% of your RDI. Dark chocolate can boost your health in many ways. Studies show that it has the power to fight inflammation and cancer, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and improve cognitive function. Reach for 70 percent or higher dark chocolate to reap all of the benefits this food has to offer.
Prunes/ Prune Juice
Fruits are rarely good sources of iron, but there is an exception worth mentioning. You may associate prunes with A-listers in the lineup of effective constipation remedies — and you would be right — but they’re good for more than just that. One cup of prune juice contains 3 mg of iron or 17% of your RDI. A cup of pitted prunes contains 1.6 mg of iron. Prunes are also an excellent source of fiber, vitamin K, B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese.