Many people, especially women of childbearing age, infants, and pregnant women, may not take in as much iron as they need. However, there are many good food sources of iron to choose from. If your doctor advises you to increase your iron intake, consult the chart below to determine how much you need, and read on for some suggestions to meet those needs.
Your blood depends on iron to help it carry oxygen through the body. In some cases,
is caused by a lack of iron in the diet. Iron also helps your body to fight infection and to make collagen, the major protein that makes up connective tissue, cartilage, and bone. Other medical conditions may be worsened if you do not have enough iron.
AI = 0.27
AI = 0.27
Lactation, < 18 years
Lactation, 19-50 years
Note: RDA=Recommended Daily Allowance in milligrams per day; AI=Adequate Intake
Iron exists in 2 forms—heme and nonheme. Heme iron is part of the hemoglobin and myoglobin molecules in animal tissues. It is found in meat and other animal sources. About 40% of the iron in meat is in the heme form. Nonheme iron comes from animal tissues other than hemoglobin and myoglobin and from plant tissues. It is found in meats, eggs, milk, vegetables, grains, and other plant foods. The body absorbs heme iron much more efficiently than nonheme iron.
Food Sources of Mostly Heme Iron (Contain Some Nonheme As Well)
Liver, giblets, cooked
Beef, lean only, braised
Turkey, dark meat, roasted
Beef, ground, 85% lean
Turkey, light meat, roasted
Chicken, dark meat only, roasted
Tuna, fresh yellowfin, cooked, dry heat
Chicken, breast, roasted
Halibut, cooked, dry heat
Pork, loin, broiled
Tuna, white, canned in water
Food Sources of Nonheme Iron
Breakfast cereal, 100% iron fortified
Spinach, fresh, boiled
Red kidney beans, canned
Lima beans, cooked
Green peas, boiled
Pinto beans, boiled
Tofu, raw, firm
White bread, made with enriched flour
Tips For Increasing Your Iron Intake
The amount of iron your body absorbs varies depending on several factors. For example, your body will absorb more iron from foods when your iron stores are low and will absorb less when stores are sufficient.
In addition, certain dietary factors affect absorption:
Heme iron is absorbed more efficiently than nonheme iron.
Heme iron enhances the absorption of nonheme iron.
enhances the absorption of nonheme iron when eaten at the same meal.
Some substances decrease the absorption of nonheme iron. (Consuming heme iron and/or
with nonheme can help compensate for these decreases.)
Oxalic acid, found in spinach and chocolate—However, oxalic acid is broken down with cooking.
Phytic acid, found in wheat bran and beans (legumes)
Tannins, found in tea
Polyphenols, found in coffee
Calcium carbonate supplements
To increase your intake and absorption of dietary iron, try the following:
Combine heme and nonheme sources of iron.
Eat foods rich in vitamin C with nonheme iron sources. Good sources of vitamin C include:
Oranges and orange juice
Tomatoes and tomato juice
Spinach and collard greens
If you drink coffee or tea, do so between meals rather than with a meal.
Cook acidic foods in cast iron pots. This can increase iron content up to 30 times.
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.