The 10 Best Iron-Rich Foods RDs Say You Should Eat More Of

Are you eating a sufficient amount of iron-rich foods? If not, you might be prone to iron deficiency, which can lead to anemia and chronic fatigue.  

Iron is an incredibly important mineral—your body needs it for growth and development, in addition to using it to produce hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to all parts of the body. Iron is also classified as an essential nutrient, meaning you must get it from the foods you eat.

"The Daily Value (DV) for iron is 18 milligrams," explains Sydney Spiewak, MS, RDN, CDN. According to Spiewak, in order to best understand the importance of eating iron-rich foods, we need to define the two different types of iron: Heme​ and ​non-heme​ iron. ​"Heme ​iron is found in animal meats and seafood, and is ​the form of iron that is most readily absorbed by the body," she explains. "Non-heme​ iron is found in plant-based foods, as​ opposed to meat. Non-heme​ iron is an important part of a healthy, ​well-balanced diet, however the iron in these foods will not be absorbed as completely as heme sources."

iron-rich-foods: spinach
Getty Images

Spiewak says that individuals are likely to absorb up to 30 percent of the heme​ iron that they consume, but only​ between 2 to 10 percent of the non-heme ​iron they consume.​ The amount of iron your body absorbs is partially based on how much you already have stored. And women—especially those who don't consume a sufficient amount of iron-rich foods—are more prone to iron deficiency due to menstruation, which can lead to anemia and symptoms such as chronic fatigue.

Luckily, there are plenty of delicious options for boosting your body's iron intake (none of which invoke graphic images of Popeye scarfing down canned spinach, thankyouverymuch). Here are five of the best heme​ iron food sources and five foods filled with ​non-heme​ iron​ to help you boost the amount of iron you eat, according to Spiewak. (FYI, she says that good sources of both heme and non-heme iron include 2.1 milligrams or more per serving.)

Heme Iron Food Sources

01 of 10

Shellfish and Oysters

Shallot-Lime Mignonette
OystersWhen shucking and serving, don’t spill the briny liquid inside the shell. It’s precious! It mingles with the mignonette and gives a clean, oceany finish. To serve them on the half shell, you’ll need an oyster knife and a dish towel. Then, follow these three simple steps, and serve on a bed of crushed ice.Give it a try:Oysters With Shallot-Lime MignonetteOctopusLeave trimming and tenderizing a whole one to the pros. (It’s a beast, and octopus can be rubbery when not cooked properly.) Instead, try canned octopus. It’s delicious—trust us. Just drizzle it with fresh lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, and chopped parsley. Serve to guests at room temperature. Gentl & Hyers

All forms of shellfish are high in iron, but oysters, clams, and mussels are particularly good sources. Oysters have 8 milligrams per 3-ounce serving which is 44 percent of the DV; clams have close to 3 milligrams, or nearly 17 percent.

02 of 10

Liver and Other Organ Meats

Pate WIth Cornichons and Sliced Baguette
Con Poulos

Don't knock them until you've tried 'em—organ meats like liver (hey, pâté) and kidneys have as much as 5 milligrams per 3-ounce serving, which is 27 percent of the DV. Organ meats are also high in protein and rich in vitamin A, B vitamins, copper, choline, and selenium.

03 of 10


Beef-and-Barley Soup With Porcini
Meet your new solution to winter entertaining: a big batch stew full of tender meat, hearty vegetables, and earthy mushrooms (which, you guessed it are the secret ingredient). You’ll learn how to rehydrate dried porcinis, and how to use their soaking liquid, which is basically a homemade mushroom stock. If you don’t want to eat it all right away, this soup also freezes beautifully. Get the recipe: Beef-and-Barley Soup With Porcini. Hector Manuel Sanchez

Red meat has 2.2 milligrams per 3-ounce serving, or 12 percent of the DV. "Studies have suggested that those who eat meat, poultry, and fish on a regular basis may be less prone to iron deficiency," says Spiewak. This is, of course, a multi-faceted finding, as many Americans' diets also lack the rich sources of plant-based iron below.

04 of 10

Canned Tuna and Sardines

Open-Faced Tuna Niçoise Pitas
Jennifer Causey

Certain types of fish are packed with iron, including tuna and sardines. Tuna has around 1.4 milligrams of iron in a 3-ounce serving (8 percent of the DV), and sardines have as much as 2 milligrams per 3-ounce serving (11 percent). Haddock and mackerel are other delicious iron-rich options.

05 of 10

Dark Turkey Meat

Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner

Dark turkey meat contains 1.4 milligrams of iron per serving, which is 8 percent of the DV (emphasis on dark meat, as light turkey meat contains approximately half that amount of iron).

Non-Heme Iron Food Sources

06 of 10

Beans and Lentils

edamame in a large bowl next to a small bowl of soy sauce
Claudia Totir/Getty Images

According to Spiewak, cooked soybeans are a standout example here, as they contain 8.8 milligrams (nearly 50 percent of the DV) of iron in a 1-cup serving. A cup of cooked lentils contains 6.6 milligrams, which is 37 percent of the DV; a ½ cup of black beans has 1.8 milligrams, or 10 percent of the DV.

07 of 10


Savory Oatmeal With Spinach and Poached Eggs
This breakfast oatmeal takes on a risotto-like texture, thanks to melty cheese, wilted spinach, and a runny egg. Serve with freshly squeezed orange juice—or a Bloody Mary. Get the Recipe:Savory Oatmeal With Spinach and Poached Eggs. Greg DuPree

While Popeye wasn't all wrong, don't feel compelled to eat this delicious leafy green from a can: 3.5 ounces of raw spinach contains 2.7 milligrams of iron, which is 15 percent of the DV. Cooked spinach is (of course) far more concentrated: A cup contains 6.4 milligrams of iron, or 36 percent of the DV. Spinach is also rich in vitamin C—which significantly boosts your body's ability to absorb iron—and antioxidants. Consuming spinach (and other leafy greens) with fat will help your body absorb the carotenoids, the most prominent antioxidant in the vegetable, so make sure to drizzle your spinach salad with EVOO.

08 of 10

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds
Calories per serving:180 in ¼ cup. Notable nutrients: Protein and zinc.How they benefit you: • Immunity boost: These seeds are a valuable source of zinc, a nutrient that helps to keep immune cells functioning properly. One ounce of pumpkin seeds provides about 20 percent of the daily recommended value of zinc. Only a handful of other foods (such as beef and pork) offer the same.• Muscle tone: One serving offers almost 10 grams of protein, nearly 20 percent of the daily recommended dose for women—which is remarkable for a vegan source. That’s slightly more than ½ cup of black beans.Try them on toast: Cover a slice of toast with mashed avocado, then add a sprinkling of sea salt and the seeds. Don’t toast the seeds, which reduces their nutritional content. If you'd rather munch on them plain, try our spiced pumpkin seed recipe.Snack on them with: Brandless's Almond & Pumpkin Seed, Nut & Caramel Chews ($3; John Lawton

A 1-ounce serving of pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas) contains 2.5 milligrams of iron, which is 14 percent of the DV. Pistachios are also solid sources, with 1.1 milligrams per 1-ounce serving.

09 of 10


tufu and mushroom larb
Caitlin Bensel

A ½ cup serving of our favorite soy-based protein has 3.4 milligrams of iron, which is 19 percent of the DV.

10 of 10


Roasted Salmon with Crispy Broccoli and Quinoa
Johnny Miller

A cup of cooked quinoa contains 2.8 milligrams of iron, which meets 16 percent of your DV. Quinoa is also packed with plant-based protein and antioxidants, folate, and magnesium.

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