57 Foods Rich In Iron
1. Sesame Seeds
14.55 mg / 100g
Like most seeds, sesame seeds are an incredibly rich source of the nutrients that our bodies need, including iron; indeed, just one tablespoon of seeds contains about 7% of the daily requirement! Sesame seeds can be added to breads, trail mixes and stir fries to provide a tasty, yet nutritious crunch.
2. Pumpkin Seeds
8.82 mg / 100g
The edible seeds of the pumpkin are packed with goodness and have been associated with increases in "good" cholesterol, reduction of menopausal symptoms and a better quality of sleep. Pumpkin seeds are delicious roasted and eaten as a snack, but can also be blended into smoothies to help boost nutrients levels.
3. Black Turtle Beans
8.7 mg / 100g
Often used for their meaty texture in burritos, black beans are a delicious and nutritious source of plant-based protein, as well as dietary fibre which benefits health by removing cholesterol from the gut before it can reach the blood stream. Black beans also provide a nutritious boost to rice salad and are delicious in spicy bean soup.
4. Kidney Beans
8.2 mg / 100g
Chilli con carne wouldn't be complete without kidney beans, but these creamy red pulses also work very well in rice and beans, bean burgers, bean stew and bean salad – indeed, any recipe that calls for beans will work well with kidney beans. They are also quite cheap compared to other beans, making them a budget protein option for non-meat eaters.
5. Dark Chocolate
8.02 mg / 100g
When purchasing dark chocolate, try to opt for versions with a high cocoa solid content. Dark chocolate makes a surprisingly healthy snack, when consumed in moderation, and can also be added to chilli to give it a luxurious flavour and texture. Dark chocolate contains very good amounts of most vitamins and minerals including iron, with a 28g serving having around 19% of the daily requirement.
6. Chia Seeds
7.72 mg / 100g
Native to Mexico and Guatemala, chia seeds are a popular health food because they can be easily incorporated into the diet, providing a good injection of minerals, dietary fibre and omega fatty acids. Include them in smoothies, homemade granola and trail mixes, and even use them to make a healthy breakfast item called chia pudding that is also great for dessert.
7. Lima Beans
7.51 mg / 100g
Better known as butter beans, lima beans have a creamy, mild taste that enables them to take on the other flavours in a dish incredibly well. They are delicious added to lasagne, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, and add a wholesome boost of nutrients to pasta sauce. Lima beans also make a very good bean dip.
8. Cashew Nuts
6.68 mg / 100g
These creamy, mild tasting nuts are perfect for use in many recipes like stir fry, ramen and even soups; cashew nuts also add a wonderful crunch to salads and homemade coleslaw. There are a number of benefits to adding cashews to the diet including the heart healthy fats they contain and a good level of minerals that are essential to health.
6.51 mg / 100g
Their high levels of dietary fibre mean that lentils help to leave you feeling full, which is good for weight management, and help to remove cholesterol from the gut; lentils also contain around 37% of your daily requirement of iron per cup. They can be used in place of mince to make bolognaise and chilli, as well as creating a delicious lentil dahl.
10. Flax Seeds
5.73 mg / 100g
Flax seeds are an excellent way to include more nutrients easily into the diet – they are rich in omega fatty acids, dietary fibre, protein and nearly every vitamin and mineral we need. Adding them to a smoothie will give your drink a powerful nutritional punch. Flax seeds are also delicious sprinkled over porridge and honey, or stirred into fruit and yogurt for breakfast.
11. Pine Nuts
5.53 mg / 100g
Pine nuts are rich in nutrients like dietary fibre, protein and omega fatty acids, which are all important to good heart health. Pine nuts are most commonly used to make pesto, but are equally delicious toasted and served with duck or used with other ingredients to make a stuffing for tomatoes, peppers or meat.
12. Sunflower Seeds
5.25 mg / 100g
By adding sunflower seeds to smoothies, homemade granola or bread you will help to significantly boost the overall nutrition of your recipe. They are an abundant source of most vitamins and minerals, as well as plant based protein and dietary fibre which is good news for heart health and weight management.
13. Adzuki Beans
4.98 mg / 100g
Also known as aduki beans, adzuki beans are a very rich source of iron, containing roughly a quarter of your daily needs per cup. They are traditionally used in sweet dishes in many Asian recipes, but their creamy, sweet taste means that they make a wonderful addition to more healthful soups and stews.
4.72 mg / 100g
One of the best ways to enjoy oats is as porridge, but it can also be added to bolognaise and chilli to help bulk out the mince and give a nutrient boost to the dish, since oats are surprisingly full of goodness;indeed, one cup of oats contains as much as 41% of the daily requirement of iron.
4.7 mg / 100g
Hazelnuts have a naturally sweet flavour that makes them delicious in homemade granola and trail mix; they can also be used to make your own nut butter and mixed with coconut sugar and cocoa will create a much healthier and nutritious version of chocolate spread that is dairy and gluten free - great news for health conscious parents and their children!
4.61 mg / 100g
Oysters contain large amounts of the minerals and some of the vitamins that we need – indeed a single, medium sized oyster has more than the daily allowance of vitamin B12 and 14% of the daily requirement of iron. Enjoy them lightly steamed with butter, or add them to fish pie or paella.
4.58 mg / 100g
Peanuts are full to bursting with essential vitamins and minerals that our bodies need, including half of the daily allowance of dietary fibre, 75% of the daily protein needs and 37% of the daily intake of iron per cup. Peanuts make a delicious nut butter for crackers and wraps, but when whole they work very well in curries and trail mixes.
4.57 mg / 100g
Quinoa is one of the only plants that can be classified as a complete protein – complete proteins are normally derived from meat, eggs and dairy, or by combining a pulse with a carbohydrate. One cup of quinoa will also provide around 15% of the daily requirement of iron. It can be used in place of rice or couscous in most recipes.
19. Garbanzo Beans
4.31 mg / 100g
Garbanzo beans, better known as chickpeas, are the main ingredient in hummus; they are also used to make falafels and bean burgers. Because of their high levels of dietary fibre, garbanzo beans can help to lower cholesterol and maintain a healthy digestive system; they are also a very good source of iron, containing about 18% of the daily requirement per cup.
3.95 mg / 100g
A one ounce serving of mussels contains around 19% of your daily requirement of iron, which is the equivalent of roughly three mussels. They were once thought of as poor man's food, but are now considered something of a delicacy. Enjoy them as they are, steamed and served with butter and lemon, or add them to paella for a delicious mineral boost.
21. Pistachio Nuts
3.92 mg / 100g
Native to the Middle East, pistachio nuts have been consumed for millennia, with their use dating back as far as 6,000 B.C. Pistachio nuts are often consumed on their own as a healthy snack, but they also taste delicious in tabbouleh - a type of bulgur wheat salad - or turned into cream for use in soup.
3.71 mg / 100g
As a snack, almonds provide an abundance of nutrients that the body needs, with very little effort; they also make a delicious almond milk that tastes incredibly similar to cow's milk. Almonds contain nearly a third of the daily allowance of iron per cup and are linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's and developing heart disease.
23. Macadamia Nuts
3.69 mg / 100g
Like most nuts, macadamia nuts are a rich source of nearly every mineral the body needs; they are also associated with health benefits like being gluten free, protecting cells from damage from free radicals and helping to lower "bad" cholesterol. Use them chopped in homemade granola or chuck a handful into stir fry for a protein boost.
3.3 mg / 100g
Olives are popular as a snack on their own, but are equally delicious when chopped up and added to salads or pasta sauces. They are incredibly good for you and help reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and lower levels of cholesterol in the body.
3.24 mg / 100g
Whilst the vitamin C content of regular potatoes cannot be used by the body, the other vitamins and minerals they contain can, including iron - one large potato contains 18% of the daily allowance. Potatoes are incredibly versatile and can be enjoyed baked, mashed or roasted as an accompaniment to meat or fish; they also make a delicious leek and potato soup.
26. Dandelion Greens
3.1 mg / 100g
It may come as a surprise to know that the greens from dandelions can be eaten and are incredibly good for you! They have a bitter taste that makes them excellent to use in salads, stir fries and even as a base for pesto. Dandelion greens also work very well in green smoothies, providing a good dose of most vitamins and minerals.
2.91 mg / 100g
Walnuts are a very good source of minerals, protein and dietary fibre; their bitter, smoky taste makes them a delicious addition to salads that accompany red meats. Walnuts are also an excellent accompaniment to cheese dishes and really help to bring out the flavour of goat's cheese tart.
2.79 mg / 100g
This blue-green coloured algae is a product of freshwater areas and is understood to be something of a superfood thanks to the high levels of nutrients that it contains. It is often sold in a powdered form and added to smoothies; it can even be used to make a spirulina milk in a similar fashion to homemade nutmilks.
2.71 mg / 100g
Also referred to as sweetcorn, corn adds a deliciously sweet crunch to fish pie, risotto and soup – it is also the main ingredient in corn chowder, which is really tasty! Corn is a very good source of iron and contains around a quarter of the daily requirement per cup.
2.71 mg / 100g
Spinach is a leafy green vegetable that is very rich in nutrients and is a reliable source of iron – one cup of spinach contains about 5% of the daily requirement. Use it raw in salads or to make pesto, or add it to soups and curries to help boost the overall levels of nutrients.
2.53 mg / 100g
A cup of pecans contains around 14% of the daily allowance of iron, as well as very good amounts of most other vitamins and minerals. They are most commonly associated with sweet dishes due to their deliciously smoky flavour, but this flavour means that they work really well in savoury dishes like coleslaw and nut loaf.
2.5 mg / 100g
Native to China and often referred to as Sharon fruit, the persimmon is a bright orange-yellow fruit that has a wonderfully sweet flesh – it is often dried and served as an after-dinner dessert in many East Asian countries. Dried or fresh persimmon can also be chopped up and sprinkled over cereal or stirred into yogurt.
33. Brazil Nuts
2.43 mg / 100g
Whilst Brazil nuts are largely composed of fat, that fat is beneficial to health, especially the omega 6 fatty acids. Brazil nuts are also an incredibly rich source of nearly every mineral we need including iron, with one cup containing about 18% of the daily requirement. Enjoy these nuts chopped and stirred through salad or added to homemade granola and trail mixes.
2.43 mg / 100g
There are a number of ways to enjoy coconut and, therefore, a number of ways to use it in recipes. The milk is perfect as a non-dairy base in smoothies or for drizzling through curry; the meat is delicious in cereal or stirred through yogurt; and the oil is often used as a healthy alternative to regular butter in cooking and baking.
2.14 mg / 100g
Asparagus is a delicacy in the vegetable world, which means that the best and cheapest time to eat it is when it is in season. It is also a very good source of vitamins and minerals including iron, with one cup containing 16% of the daily requirement. Asparagus is delicious lightly grilled and served with butter, but also works beautifully in quiche.
36. Broccoli Rabe (Rapini)
2.14 mg / 100g
More commonly known as rapini, broccoli rabe is a leafy green vegetable that is similar to traditional broccoli and, as such, can be used in a number of recipes where broccoli would normally be used. Broccoli rabe is often fried alongside garlic and served as a side dish.
2.11 mg / 100g
Edamame are immature soybeans still in their pods and are often served as a spicy snack in Asian cuisine. They are also really great in stir fries, pureed into a beany dip or as the bean component of rice and beans. Because they are soybeans, they are a great source of plant-based protein, good news for meat-free diets!
2.1 mg / 100g
Leeks are delicious in bolognaise sauce and add an infusion of onion flavour to a number of soups, being the main ingredient in the winter warming leek and potato soup. Because their onion flavour is quite mild, they also pair incredibly well with chicken, fish and sage. One cup of leeks will provide around 10% of your daily requirement of iron.
39. Grass Fed Beef
1.99 mg / 100g
Compared to regular beef, grass fed beef is nutritionally superior due to the nature of its production. It is a very good source of many essential B vitamins and minerals that are important for good health. Grass fed beef makes delicious bolognaise and stews, but is equally yummy barbequed and served with salad.
1.99 mg / 100g
Native to the Indian sub-continent and often found as a wild weed, purslane is a leafy green vegetable that is a surprisingly good source of many vitamins and minerals. Purslane flowers are often used in salads, whilst the leaves and stem can be used both in salads and in soups; it is also delicious added to stir fry.
1.88 mg / 100g
Raisins are basically dried green grapes that are sweeter than fresh grapes because the sugars have been condensed in the drying process, making them ideal as a healthy snack for people with a sweet tooth. Raisins also work very well in lamb tagine and are tasty in coleslaw or paired with duck.
42. Brown Rice
1.8 mg / 100g
Brown rice is far healthier and more nutritious than white rice, providing a deliciously chewy texture and nutty flavour to dishes like egg fried rice, rice salad and curries. It is also a very good source of dietary fibre and protein which will help leave you feeling fuller for longer and in turn assists in proper weight management.
43. Swiss chard
1.8 mg / 100g
Swiss chard is a leafy green vegetable with beautiful, bright coloured stalks that look amazing in salad or as a side dish to fish and meat. It is understood that the pigments in chard help to support the immune system, including helping to detox the body. Swiss chard will work well as an alternative to other leafy greens in most recipes.
1.75 mg / 100g
Whether you enjoy them poached, scrambled or made into an omelette, there's no denying the versatility, tastiness and ease of eggs. Eggs are a very good source of iron, however the amount available depends on the species of bird with regular hen eggs containing about 5%, duck eggs containing 15% and goose eggs containing 29% of the daily requirement per egg.
45. Mustard Greens
1.64 mg / 100g
Mustard greens are a bitter tasting, leafy green vegetable that add a mustard kick to salads; they can also be added to stir fries or soups for a delicious flavour. It is thought that these vegetables can help to lower cholesterol when they are steamed, a process that increases their ability to bind with bile formed by cholesterol in the gut.
1.63 mg / 100g
Mackerel is an oily fish that is often overlooked in favour of more popular varieties; it really shouldn't be because it is a cheap and nutritious alternative to fish like salmon. Mackerel works incredibly well in homemade fishcakes, but is best when lightly grilled and served with salad and buttery new potatoes.
47. Passion Fruit
1.6 mg / 100g
The edible seeds of the passion fruit provide a delicately exotic twang to smoothies, juices and fruit salads, with only a small amount being needed to achieve the desired effect. They can also be stirred through yogurt to form a delicious, healthy breakfast complete with many of the vitamins and minerals we need for a healthy start to the day.
1.48 mg / 100g
More commonly known as spring onions and coming in a range of sizes, scallions are a milder tasting member of the onion family that work very well in salads, stir fries and coleslaw; they also add a delicious crunch to soups and curry if added during the last few minutes of cooking.
1.47 mg / 100g
Peas can be cooked shelled or in their pods and served as a side dish to meat or fish, or added to risotto, soup or savoury mince. Peas are an excellent source of most vitamins and minerals; and being incredibly versatile and having quite a mild taste allows them to work well in most recipes.
1.47 mg / 100g
One cup of kale contains around 6% of your daily requirement of iron and since it wilts when cooked, you are going to use far more than that in most recipes. Kale is delicious in pasta sauce, curry and in fish pie; it can even be drizzled in oil and salt and baked for a healthier alternative to crisps.
1.46 mg / 100g
Whilst you might traditionally think of adding arugula to salads or wraps, it is worth noting that this leafy green can be used in most cooked dishes in place of spinach or kale, including soup, pasta and curry. It will even work well in green smoothies, depending on the other ingredients you have in it since it has a peppery flavour.
52. Brussels Sprouts
1.4 mg / 100g
These traditional winter vegetables are bursting with flavour and nutrients; they are also incredibly low in calories, containing just 38 calories per cup! Brussel sprouts are often served boiled as a side dish to a roast dinner, but they are equally scrumptious cooked into homemade macaroni cheese or steamed and flaked through a salad.
1.28 mg / 100g
Artichokes contain very good amounts of most vitamins and minerals, which combined with the fact that they are low in calories makes them an ideal food to include in the diet. They can be enjoyed chopped in half and barbequed, served with lemon and butter; or steam them and serve as an alternative to lettuce in salads.
54. Chilli Peppers
1.2 mg / 100g
A good chilli con carne needs to have fresh chillies, but these delicious little peppers also add a wonderful flavour to falafels, stir fries and flatbread – indeed, a delicious homemade flatbread can be made by kneading cheese and chilli peppers into the dough, yum! One chilli will also give you around 3% of your daily iron requirement.
55. Green Beans
1.03 mg / 100g
Enjoy them raw as a snack, steam them to serve as a simple side dish to fish and meat, or chuck them in a stir fry, green beans are a wonderfully simple vegetable to prepare, cook and eat. Green beans are also packed with nutrients and contain around 6% of the daily allowance of iron per cup.
1.02 mg / 100g
For those who have a sweet tooth but are trying to follow a healthier lifestyle, free from refined sugar, dates are the answer! They are naturally very sweet and work extremely well as an alternative to refined sugar sweeteners in smoothies and nut milks; they are also incredibly nutritious, providing good levels of many vitamins and minerals that we need.
1.02 mg / 100g
The amount of iron available in tuna depends greatly on the species you consume; skipjack seems to offer the most iron with roughly 6% of your daily allowance per 3 ounce serving, whereas yellowfin tuna only provides half that amount. Tuna is versatile and can be eaten with a side of salad and rice or added to fish pie or pasta bake.
Iron is an important component of haemoglobin, the part of the blood that carries life-giving oxygen to the various cells around the body. Iron is also incredibly important in ensuring the proper function of the body, including growth and development.
Whilst dietary iron is present in its natural form in a huge number of foods, it is actually present in two forms: haem and non-haem iron. Meat and seafood contain both types of iron, whereas plants and fortified foods contain only non-haem iron. Despite the notion that we have to eat plenty of meat in order to maintain good iron levels, only 25% of our iron comes from meat-based sources, the remaining 75% comes from plant-based foods and fortified foods.
Most of the iron we consume is present in haemoglobin, with the remainder being stored as ferritin in the bone marrow, liver and spleen. There are a number of ways to measure exactly what the levels of iron are in the body and professionals choose which to use based upon what they are trying to measure.
If attempting to determine an iron deficiency, then they might choose to measure the amount of ferritin in the body to indicate the early stages of a deficiency. During the final stages of iron deficiency they take a blood cell count and test overall haemoglobin concentrations.
Why Is Iron Important?
Whilst it is clear that iron plays a key role in the production of red blood cells and transporting oxygen around the body, as well as preventing anaemia caused by an iron deficiency, it is also important for the proper, healthy development of the foetus whilst in the womb. A deficiency of iron can sometimes have consequences for the infant once they are born.
A recent study examined the effects that iron has on the growth of babies when inside the womb and concluded that low intakes of iron during the early stages of pregnancy increased the risk of babies being born small for their gestational age. They tend to be smaller because they were unable to get the right levels of nutrients and oxygen from the blood during gestation. Whilst some babies are small because their parents are genetically predisposed to being small, for most babies who are small for their gestational age there are concerns that they may experience complications later in life.
It is also understood, thanks to another recent study that low iron intakes during pregnancy may increase the risk of children developing asthma, wheezing and other breathing related conditions later in life. Iron deficiency during and after pregnancy also poses a risk to the mother because she is at a greater risk of developing anaemia. Indeed, a study has shown that within the field of obstetrics up to 80% of anaemia is caused by iron deficiency, something that can be prevented with little more than a healthy diet and iron supplements.
During childhood years, the recommended daily intake of iron for males and females remains the same until females begin menstruation, right through until menopause. This is because the blood lost through menstruation leads to a drop in iron levels, which then need to be replenished. The same is true during and after pregnancy, and whilst lactating.
For infants under six months of age, there is no recommended intake of iron, only a suggested safe amount that it is felt will ensure that babies are getting the levels of iron their bodies need to thrive, which is 0.27mg a day. Babies aged seven to twelve months old require around 11mg of iron a day; whilst children aged between one and three years old need 7mg a day. Children between the ages of four and eight years old should be getting about 10mg a day; those aged nine to thirteen years need 8mg.
If a young woman begins menstruating before the age of fourteen, then she will likely need greater intakes of iron, but it is best to check this with a doctor. From fourteen years of age onwards, the amounts of iron for males and females differ. Between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, males need 11mg of iron a day, then from nineteen years onwards they only require around 8mg a day.
Females of child-bearing age should be getting about 27mg of iron during pregnancy and when lactating they should be getting around 10mg a day. When not pregnant, females aged fourteen to eighteen should be getting 15mg of iron a day and those aged nineteen years and upwards should be getting 18mg a day until they are about fifty-one years old, or going through menopause; then their recommended intake reduces to the same levels as males, at 8mg a day.
Iron Deficiency And Anaemia
Anaemia is most commonly associated with iron deficiency because a lack of iron tends to be the most likely cause of anaemia; that said, there are other causes and it is often noticed that a person who is deficient in iron is also lacking in other minerals as well. A deficiency of iron in the body results in less oxygen getting to where it is needed, which can have serious consequences on health in the long term.
Iron deficiency can be broken down into several stages, although how quickly each stage is reached depends largely on the cause of the iron deficiency. Initially, during mild iron deficiency, the stores of iron in the bone marrow and ferritin are depleted. Then, during a stage known as marginal deficiency, the stores of iron are eventually depleted, however haemoglobin levels remain within normal ranges. Finally haemoglobin levels and concentrations of red blood cells decline, which means that the final stage of deficiency has been reached: Iron Deficiency Anaemia.
Because it can sometimes be hard to pinpoint the exact cause of anaemia, the symptoms of an iron deficiency may be overlooked. That said, the following symptoms are common amongst people experiencing iron deficiency: lethargy and general tiredness, palpitations, shortness of breath and pale complexion.
Other, less common symptoms include headaches, tinnitus (a ringing or buzzing in the ears), itchiness, difficulty swallowing, desire to eat non-food items and painful ulcers on the corner of the mouth – if you have any of these symptoms, you should consult your doctor straight away.
There are also groups of people who at more risk of experiencing iron deficiency than others and they include:
- Pregnant women and babies – during pregnancy, the body requires a greater intake of iron to help produce the required blood cells needed for the placenta and foetus. If the daily iron intake isn’t increased to match demand, then the mother is at risk of developing an iron deficiency, as is the baby. Indeed, if the mother was suffering from iron deficiency during pregnancy, then there is a risk that the baby will experience a deficiency during the first few months of life since they won’t have received the proper levels of iron whilst in the womb.
- Regular blood donors – blood loss is one of the most common ways for iron deficiency to occur, which means that people who regularly donate blood leave themselves at risk of developing a deficiency. The best way to combat this is to take iron supplements and increase intakes of iron-rich foods, particularly before and after giving blood.
- People with cancer – when suffering from cancer, or undergoing cancer treatment, there is a risk of experiencing iron deficiency and it is thought that this risk is due to blood loss that may occur with certain types of cancer, such as colon cancer, or from chemotherapy-induced anaemia.
- People with a gastrointestinal disorder or recovering from gastrointestinal surgery – people who are living with a gastrointestinal disorder or recovering from surgery will likely be on a restricted diet that may affect their iron intake, which in turn can result in iron deficiency. There is also the risk of bleeding post-surgery, or in the advanced stages of a disorder, which could also increase the risk of developing an iron deficiency.
Risks And Warnings
Like with most vitamins and minerals, there is very little risk of overdosing on dietary iron, particularly if you are otherwise fit and healthy and have a properly functioning digestive system. That said, there is a danger of overdosing on iron supplements because such supplements tend to have large doses of iron in a concentrated form. Negative effects from ingesting too much iron tend to appear almost immediately and are usually focused around the abdominal area, including constipation, nausea, abdominal pains and vomiting. These symptoms tend to appear for levels of iron at around 20mg/kg.
Ingestions of dangerously high levels of iron, mostly around 60mg/kg, can lead to convulsions, organ failure and even death. Children have become seriously ill or died from consuming such large quantities of iron supplements, mistaking the tablets for sweets, which is why the warning about keeping them out of reach of children should be taken very seriously.