Iron is responsible for transporting oxygen from your lungs to the cells and muscles in your body, and deficiency can cause you to experience low energy levels, shortness of breath, chest pain, and more.
It can also cause you to crave weird things, like ice and dirt.
We get iron from the foods we eat, but our bodies don’t retain every bit of iron we consume — and we naturally shed it every day through normal bodily functions. So if you’re not getting enough in your diet or in supplements, you could develop a deficiency called anemia.
That’s why it’s essential to include foods high in iron in your diet. Some of the best sources of iron include red meat, seafood, and leafy green veggies.
Most people need around 18 mg of iron per day. However, pregnant women need approximately 27 mg of iron per day, and lactating women need about 9 mg of iron daily. If you’re at risk for iron deficiency, you may need to consume more than the recommended amount.
Types of Iron
There are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme is a Greek word meaning blood, so it makes sense that heme iron is found in animal products, while non-heme iron is found in plant-based foods.
Heme iron is the most absorbable form of iron. That’s likely why research shows that people who regularly eat animal meats and seafood are less likely to develop iron deficiency.
The amount of heme iron absorbed by the body depends on a few factors, including the amount of iron in the food and how much was eaten at one time. Generally, the body absorbs around 15 percent of the heme iron that you consume.
Keep in mind that iron absorption is affected by various other factors, including the type of food and how it was cooked. For instance, some nutrients like vitamin C improve iron absorption while others inhibit it (such as phytates).
Non-heme iron is the type of iron that is found in plant products. It is not as absorbable as heme iron, but it is still an essential source of iron for the body. Some of the best sources of non-heme iron include leafy green vegetables, nuts, and legumes.
The body absorbs up to 12 percent of the non-heme iron you eat. This means that it is vital to include a variety of iron-rich foods in your diet to get the most benefit. Some of the best sources of non-heme iron include leafy green vegetables, nuts, and legumes.
Foods High in Iron
According to the USDA, a 3-ounce serving of red meat contains around 2.7 milligrams of iron. This means that it is a good source of iron, providing around 20% of the recommended daily intake.
Some red meats high in iron include beef, pork, lamb, and goat.
Organ meats, such as liver, kidney, and heart, are one of the greatest sources of iron, even though it can be an acquired taste (to put it gently). For example, a 3-ounce portion of Goose liver packs a whopping 30.5 mg of iron —more than you need for the whole day.
Goose liver probably isn’t going to be on your menu anytime soon, but liver from cows is easier to get and contains 4.9 mg per 3 ounces.
The color of the turkey affects its iron content.
A 3-ounce serving of dark turkey contains around 1.3 mg of iron, while white meat turkey only has about 0.7 mg for the same amount. This makes dark turkey a good source of iron and other essential nutrients like protein.
Like turkey, dark chicken meat — like what’s found in chicken thighs — is higher in iron than white meat.
A 3-ounce serving of chicken breast contains around .8 milligrams of iron, while chicken thighs have over 1 gram for the same amount.
Like fish? You’re in luck because fish is one of the best sources of iron.
According to the USDA, both tuna and mackerel are good sources, with 1 and 1.6 mg of iron per 3.5 ounces. Sardines and anchovies might not be as popular, but both are full of iron with nearly 3 and 3.25 mg of iron, respectively.
Shellfish — like shrimp and oysters — are not only tasty but provide iron for your diet. Oysters top the list at 4.6 mg per 3.5 ounces, while shrimp clock in at about .5 mg per 3.5 ounces.
Lobster, another type of shellfish, contains about the same amount of iron as shrimp, so you can’t go wrong with opting for your favorite seafood dish.
There’s a reason why Popeye was such a fan of spinach: It’s chock full of iron. Spinach is a rich source of iron, containing about 1.3 mg of iron per 3.5 ounces.
Your mom made you eat your broccoli not because she wanted to torture you but because it’s a decent source of plant-based iron — a 3.5-ounce serving contains 2 about .7 mg per 3.5 ounces.
A 3-ounce serving of Brussels sprouts contains around 1.5 milligrams of iron, around 10% of the recommended daily intake.
Artichokes and Asparagus
These A-list veggies are both tops for iron content: A 3-ounce serving of artichokes contains around 2.7 milligrams of iron, which is approximately 20% of the recommended daily intake.
Asparagus contains about half that — 1.4 milligrams of iron per 3.5-ounce serving.
The amount of iron in leeks can vary depending on the variety, but this healthy veggie will provide you with 2.1 mg of iron per 3.5-ounce portion.
There is no definitive answer to this question, as iron in green beans can vary depending on the variety. However, according to the USDA, a cup of cooked green beans contains around .8 mg of iron.
There is no definitive answer to this question, as the amount of iron in acorn squash can vary depending on the variety. However, according to the USDA, 3.5 ounces of cooked acorn squash contains around .7 mg of iron.
Beets are a double nutritional win: They’re high in iron at about .8 mg per 3.5-ounce serving, along with a hefty 4.9 mg of vitamin C.
Mulberries might not be on the top of your list of favorite fruits, but they should be: A 3-ounce serving of mulberries contains around 1.8 mg of iron.
While pomegranates aren’t the easiest fruit to eat, the work is worth it: A pomegranate contains about 1.7 milligrams of iron.
An apple a day can help keep iron deficiency away because one medium apple contains about 0.2 milligrams.
Bananas are known for their potassium content, but the yellow fruit contains iron — about .3 milligrams of iron.
Iron is not generally found in high levels in coconut. However, according to the USDA, 3.5 ounces of shredded coconut contains
Other Foods High in Iron
Pumpkin seeds are a good source of iron, containing around 2.5 milligrams per ounce. This is about 17% of the recommended daily intake.
Sunflower seeds are a good source of iron, containing around .75 milligrams per ounce. This is approximately 12% of the recommended daily intake.
Hemp seeds are not very high in iron compared to some other foods on this list, but they are still a decent source.
Sesame seeds contain about 14 milligrams per tablespoon or 50% of your DV for iron.
Quinoa is a good source of iron, containing around .75 milligrams per ounce. It’s also gluten-free, higher in protein, and chock full of other vitamins and minerals, like magnesium, copper, folate, and more.
Eggs are known for their muscle-building protein, but iron is plentiful, too: an egg contains around .6 milligrams of iron.
Tofu is a good source of iron, containing around .75 milligrams of iron per ounce.
Spirulina is a good source of iron, containing around .75 milligrams per ounce. This is approximately 12% of the recommended daily intake.
According to the USDA, 3.5 ounces of almonds contains 3.7 mg of iron. But cashews are the real iron hero of the nut world, including around 6.6 mg per 3.5 ounces.
Legumes are a fantastic choice if you want non-meat sources of iron. Some of the best legume sources of iron per 3.5 ounces include:
Like you need another excuse to add chocolate to your diet, but dark chocolate (with at least 70% cocoa) contains about of iron per 3.5-ounce serving.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which vegan foods are high in iron?
Spirulina, tofu, quinoa, and cashews are all excellent sources of iron for vegans. However, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, and sunflower seeds are also good sources of iron for vegans.
How can I increase iron absorption from food?
There are several ways that you can increase iron absorption from food. One way is to eat foods high in vitamin C and foods high in iron, which will help the body absorb more iron from the food. You can also cook food in a way that increases iron absorption, such as boiling food in water or cooking it in a cast-iron skillet.
Which foods hinder iron absorption from food?
There are a few foods that can hinder iron absorption from food. Phytates, found in grains, nuts, and legumes, can inhibit iron absorption. Also, calcium can inhibit iron absorption, so it’s best to avoid eating dairy products and calcium-rich foods at the same time as iron-rich foods.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.