Iron is a mineral found in meats, eggs, milk, vegetables, grains, and other plant foods. It exists in 2 forms—heme and nonheme. Heme iron is found in animal source. Nonheme iron comes from plant sources. The body absorbs heme iron easier than nonheme iron.
Iron plays a number of roles in the body including:
Iron needs are greatest during times of rapid growth. This is common in childhood, teen years, and pregnancy. Women also have higher requirements than men. It is needed to replace the iron that is lost with monthly periods. Daily recommendations include:
Recommended Dietary Allowance
Adequate Intake (AI) = 0.27
Adequate Intake (AI) = 0.27
|Lactation, equal to or less than 18 years||n/a||10|
|Lactation, 19-50 years||n/a||9|
People who are at higher risk for low levels of iron include:
Low iron can lead to anemia. Symptoms of anemia include:
Iron can be increased with changes to the diet. Iron supplements may be needed if the diet is not enough.
Iron is toxic at high levels. The body is not effective at getting rid of excess iron. This makes it is possible for iron to build up. Iron pills and supplements for adults can cause poisoning in children.
Symptoms of iron toxicity include:
Much of the iron in our diet comes from foods, such as breads and cereals that are fortified with iron.
|Beef liver, cooked||3 ounces||5|
|Oysters, cooked||3 ounces||8|
|Turkey breast, roasted||3 ounces||1|
|Chicken, roasted, meat and skin||3 ounces||1|
|Tuna, fresh bluefin, cooked, dry heat||3 ounces||1|
|Ready-to-eat cereal, 100% iron fortified||¾ cup||18.0|
|Lentils, boiled||½ cup||3|
|Beans, kidney, mature, boiled||½ cup||2|
|Tofu, raw, firm||½ cup||3|
|Spinach, boiled, drained||½ cup||3|
|Whole wheat bread||1 slice||1|
Your body will absorb more iron from foods when your iron stores are low. It will also absorb less when you have enough iron in your body.
Other factors that will affect how much iron you absorb from foods include:
Note: Having meat source iron and/or vitamin C with plant source iron can help make up for these decreases.
To increase intake and absorption of dietary iron:
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Vegetarian Resource Group
Dietitians of Canada
Dietary supplement fact sheet: iron. Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at:https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional. Updated December 7, 2018. Accessed January 13, 2019.
Iron deficiency anemia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115986/Iron-deficiency-anemia-in-adults. Updated August 16, 2018. Accessed January 13, 2019.
Iron deficiency anemia in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T435307/Iron-deficiency-in-children-infancy-through-adolescence. Updated December 4, 2018. Accessed January 13, 2019.
Last reviewed April 2018 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 1/13/2019