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

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

Iron is an important mineral—your body needs it for growth and development, and 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, a Connecticut-based clinical dietitian. To best understand the importance of eating iron-rich foods, she says we need to define the two types of iron: heme​ and ​non-heme​. ​

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

There are plenty of delicious options for boosting your body's iron intake, including these ten suggestions from Spiewak: her best five heme​ sources and five ​non-heme​ foods​. She considers a good source of heme or non-heme iron as having at least 2.1 milligrams per serving.

Heme Iron Sources

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 Mignonette OctopusLeave 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

Shellfish and Oysters: 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 just over 2 milligrams, or around 13 percent.

Liver and Other Organ Meats: Don't knock 'em until you've tried 'em. Organ meats like liver (hey, pâté) and kidneys have up to 5 milligrams per 3-ounce serving, which is 28 percent of the DV. Organ meats are also high in protein and rich in vitamin A, B vitamins, copper, choline, and selenium.

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

Beef: 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 a multi-faceted finding though, as many Americans' diets also lack rich sources of plant-based iron.

Open-Faced Tuna Niçoise Pitas
Jennifer Causey

Canned Tuna and Sardines: 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.

Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner

Dark Turkey Meat: 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 Sources

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

Beans and Lentils: According to Spiewak, cooked soybeans are a standout example, 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.

A savory oatmeal with egg and spinach is the breakfast you didn’t know you needed in your life. Get the recipe for Savory Oatmeal With Spinach and Poached Eggs.
Greg DuPree

Spinach: Popeye wasn't wrong. Served raw, 3.5 ounces of 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 helps your body absorb the carotenoids, the vegetable's most prominent antioxidant, so make sure to drizzle your spinach salad with EVOO.

Healthiest seeds: pumpkin seeds
John Lawton

Pumpkin Seeds: An ounce of pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas) contains 2.3 milligrams of iron, which is 13 percent of the DV. Pistachios are also solid sources, with 1.1 milligrams per 1-ounce serving.

Top View of Tofu and Mushroom Larb Dish in a Large Gray Plate with a Metal Spoon for Serving
Caitlin Bensel

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

Path of Life

Quinoa: 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 as well as antioxidants, folate, and magnesium.

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