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Which foods contain a high level of iron?

There are two forms of dietary iron: heme and nonheme. Heme iron is absorbed better and is found in animal products that originally contained hemoglobin. The highest levels are found in animal liver and red meat. Clams and oysters also contain considerable amounts of iron. Nonheme iron is common in plant products and is the form of iron added to iron-fortified foods.

Below are some of the most common iron-rich foods. Many fortified foods in grocery stores, such as milk and ready-to-eat cereals, are also good sources of iron because they are fortified with nonheme iron. These foods are not shown here. Use the HealthWatch 360 iPhone app or GB Diet and Nutrition Evaluator to find out if you are eating right.
get more out of your top foods

Animal Liver
Liver is a high iron food.

Liveradd to food log

Per 100 g (mg) 17.9
Per Serving (mg) 15.2
Serving Size 3 oz (85 g)
Seeds
Sesame seeds are a high iron food.

Seeds, sesameadd to food log

Per 100 g (mg) 14.1
Per Serving (mg) 4
Serving Size 3 tbsp (1 oz)
Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are a high iron food.

Seeds, pumpkin and squashadd to food log

Per 100 g (mg) 7.1
Per Serving (mg) 2
Serving Size ¼ cup (1 oz)
Beans
Soybeans are a high iron food.

Soybeans, cookedadd to food log

Per 100 g (mg) 4.7
Per Serving (mg) 4
Serving Size ½ cup (86 g)
Beans
Lentils are a high iron food.

Lentils, cookedadd to food log

Per 100 g (mg) 3.1
Per Serving (mg) 3
Serving Size ½ cup (99 g)
Meat and Seafood
Oysters are a high iron food.

Seafood, oysters, cookedadd to food log

Per 100 g (mg) 9.4
Per Serving (mg) 8
Serving Size 3 oz (85 g)
Meat and Seafood
Beef is a high iron food.

Meat, beefadd to food log

Per 100 g (mg) 3.5
Per Serving (mg) 3
Serving Size 3 oz (85 g)
Meat and Seafood
Clams are a high iron food.

Seafood, clamsadd to food log

Per 100 g (mg) 2.4
Per Serving (mg) 2
Serving Size 3 oz (85 g)
Meat and Seafood
Lamb is a high iron food.

Meat, lambadd to food log

Per 100 g (mg) 2.4
Per Serving (mg) 2
Serving Size 3 oz (85 g)
Vegetables
Spinach is a high iron food.

Spinachadd to food log

Per 100 g (mg) 0.7
Per Serving (mg) 1
Serving Size 1 cup (180 g)
   

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What is iron?

Iron is an essential mineral for the human body. It is what makes human blood red and is critical to blood function. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency and the leading cause of anemia in the United States. It can cause fatigue that often results in poor work performance in adults. Iron deficiency during pregnancy can lead to small or preterm babies. It can also delay normal motor and mental function in children.

How is iron used in the human body?

About 74% of iron in men and 85% in women exists in the form of heme, the functional component of hemoglobin, myoglobin and cytochromes. Hemoglobin transports oxygen in blood, myoglobin is the main component of muscles, and cytochromes transport electron for energy production. Nonheme iron functions as a cofactor for many enzymes involved in energy conversion.

What is the normal iron level in the human body?

Normal serum iron level ranges from 60 - 170 μg/dL for men and 30 - 126 μg/dL for women. Lower levels may indicate iron deficiency, chronic gastrointestinal blood loss or menstrual bleeding, or pregnancy. Higher levels may suggest iron overloading, broken blood cells, hepatitis, or vitamin B12 or B6 deficiency. You should seek help from your health provider to interpret your blood iron test results.

How much iron do I need in my diet?

The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and UL (Tolerable Upper Intake Levels) for iron by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies depend on age and gender (Table 1). In general, children during periods of rapid growth and women (especially pregnant women) need more iron than other groups.

Table 1. RDA and UL for dietary iron

Age (group) RDA (mg/day) UL (mg/day)
1–3 years 7 40
4–8 years 10 40
9–13 years 8 40
14–18 years (men) 11 45
14–18 years (women) 15 45
14–18 years (lactating women) 10 45
14-18 (pregnant women) 27 45
19 and older (men) 8 45
19-50 (pregnant women) 27 45
19-50 (lactating women) 9 45
51 and older (women) 8 45

Should I take an iron supplement?

Iron supplementation is recommended when diet alone cannot restore iron levels to normal within an acceptable timeframe. Supplementation is especially important when an individual is experiencing clinical symptoms of iron deficiency anemia. Always check with your health provider first before taking any supplements. Too much iron supplementation can result in iron overload.

How do I get sufficient dietary iron?

We recommend using the GB HealthWatch Diet and Nutrition Evaluator to get the most accurate estimate of your current iron intake.

The best way to increase iron intake is to eat iron-rich foods such as those shown in Top Foods. Many fortified foods list the iron content in the Nutrition Facts so you can choose the ones with higher iron content when shopping.

Several dietary factors, including vitamin C, fructose, sorbitol, citric acid and lactic acid increase iron absorption. Since these are mostly found in fruits and vegetables, you should eat more fruits and vegetables along with iron-rich food to optimize iron absorption from your diet.

Other dietary factors, mainly caffeine, interfere with iron absorption. Avoid consuming caffeinated foods and beverages with iron-rich foods to prevent sub-optimal iron absorption.




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