64 Foods High In Iron, So You Can Achieve Your Iron Level Goals
Iron is one of the most important nutrients in our bodies. It's responsible for making two oxygen-carrying proteins, called hemoglobin and myoglobin, and without enough iron, you may feel fatigued, dizzy, and exhausted. The general recommendation for Americans is 8 mg a day for men, 18 mg daily for women, but iron is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, with iron-deficiency anemia affecting 4 to 5 million people yearly.
But fear not—getting enough iron can be easy when you know the right sources (and checking your levels can be as easy as getting a blood test). Here's our comprehensive list of healthy foods high in iron.
Animal sources (heme iron):
Iron exists in two main forms, heme and non-heme. Heme iron is the type of iron found in primarily animal-based sources whereas non-heme iron is found primarily in plant-based sources.
Shellfish & seafood
These foods are a great source of iron, particularly shellfish.
Poultry (particularly liver and dark meat) can also be an excellent source of iron.
Yes, your omelet can help you meet your iron needs. Two eggs would give you 12% of your daily recommended amount!
Meat, pork & organ meats
Red meat has long been considered a good source of iron (pork, too!) with organ meats being particularly high in the mineral.
Plant-sources (non-heme iron):
Plant-based sources of iron contain non-heme iron, which, though less absorbable to our bodies, can help us to reach the daily amount of iron that we need. To boost non-heme iron absorption, you might want to eat more of these foods or pair them with vitamin C or a heme source.
Fruits & vegetables
Fruits and vegetables can help you meet your iron needs. In particular, green vegetables are key, but there are some surprising ones here, too.
Beans are a great mineral- and nutrient-packed food, including (you guessed it!) iron.
Nuts & seeds
Another great source of protein, fat, and fiber, nutritious nuts are also a source of plant-based iron.
Grains & cereals
Grains—particularly fortified grains—can help you meet your iron needs daily, but the less-processed and unfortified grains are also good sources of non-heme iron. Additionally, sources like molasses can help you meet your needs, too.
What about supplements?
Iron supplements can be another great way to get the iron you need if you're having trouble absorbing and need a booster. A need for an iron supplement can be identified by your doctor or dietitian (or qualified health practitioner). I generally recommend that people try to boost their food sources of iron first, then look to iron supplements (you can also look to iron-fortified foods to help before taking a supplement, too).
Iron supplements come in a few different forms, but it appears that ferrous gluconate may be the best, most absorbed type. It usually comes in liquid form (and this is the type of iron supplement I generally have my clients take), but this form contains less elemental iron, so sometimes people need to take more of this type. I usually have clients mix ferrous gluconate with orange juice, as citrus can help boost iron absorption.
The other type of supplemental iron is called ferrous sulfate, which is generally found in tablets. Sometimes iron tablets can contribute to constipation, so I generally recommend people try "slow iron"—it's considered ferrous sulfate but may be better tolerated.
The bottom line.
You can absolutely achieve your iron intake goals through both animal- and plant-based sources. If you're looking for more iron in your food, take a look at this list above and try to incorporate more iron into your every day.
You'll likely need more sources of plant-based iron due to absorption, but the good news is that there are plenty of sources to pick from, and if you do end up needing an iron supplement, there are also plenty of options as well.
Isabel Smith is a New York City-based dietitian, fitness expert, and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition and Lifestyle. She received her B.A. in health and exercise sciences from Gettysburg College before a M.S. in nutrition communications at Tufts University. She also completed a dietetic internship and worked as an oncology fellow at New York Presbyterian Hospital. In her private practice, she works as a concierge nutritionist for both individual and corporate clients, including Fortune 500 corporations and their C-level executives. Smith has helped hundreds of people worldwide reach their nutrition, fitness, health, and wellness goals, and she also spends time writing and works as a nutrition consultant to a variety of health-minded brands.