If you have been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, you probably would like to know the best iron-rich foods to eat to raise your iron levels fast. And if that’s the case, this post is for you because I am going to list the best food sources of iron, and how to increase iron absorption easily to boost your iron levels.
Iron deficiency is a very common condition worldwide, affecting 42 percent of children under 5 years old and 40 percent of pregnant women in the world according to WHO, and, 20% of women are iron deficient compared to 3% of men.
Ignoring iron deficiency can cause serious health problems because iron is required for the production of hemoglobin, the protein that helps red blood cells deliver oxygen to the cells.
And so if you don’t have enough iron to make enough hemoglobin eventually you start experiencing signs of anemia including shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, dizziness, plus many more symptoms.
What is anemia?
Anemia is a condition in which the body lacks enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to the cells and tissues. This causes one to feel very tired and weak all the time and one is likely to experience other unpleasant symptoms as well.
Symptoms can be mild to severe and can also progress over time but even when mild always seek medical care as anemia can be a sign of a serious underlying illness such as cancer.
There are different types of anemia depending on the cause and according to Mayo Clinic they include:
- Thalassemia anemia
- Anaplastic anemia
- Sickle cell anemia
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Vitamin Deficiency anemia
And due to the fact that anemia has different causes, treatment depends on the cause and can be as simple as taking supplements and eating iron foods or even having medical procedures ( source).
In this post, however, we focus on iron deficiency anemia, its causes, and the best iron-rich foods to eat to prevent or treat iron deficiency.
Causes of iron deficiency
In iron deficiency anemia, the body lacks enough iron to make hemoglobin, the protein needed to make healthy red blood cells. Hemoglobin helps the blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to the cells and tissues and carry carbon dioxide to the lungs to be exhaled out.
There are several causes of iron deficiency including blood loss, injuries, gastrointestinal bleeding, and heavy periods. Other causes of iron deficiency are a lack o adequate nutritional intake, decreased absorption, and pregnancy.
What causes poor iron absorption from a diet?
Sometimes even when you eat foods high in iron you may have a problem with absorption in the gut. This may happen when you have diseases such as celiac or Crohns.
Who is at risk for iron deficiency?
- Pregnant women
- babies and children under 5
- Cancer patients- some cancers can cause internal bleeding and iron deficiency anemia.
- people who donate blood a lot of
- people with gastrointestinal disorders, kidney disease, diabetes, and heart failure.
Can you just supplement iron?
Supplementing with iron is okay as long as you are following up with your doctor because too much iron is toxic. Toxicity can happen with supplementation but hardly from food sources.
How much iron do I need?
So to start optimizing your iron intake, it is only natural that you wonder how much iron you need. And the truth is your iron needs vary depending on your age, sex, and whether you are a vegetarian or a meat eater, according to the National Institute of health.
If you are a vegetarian you need more iron because the body doesn’t absorb the plant iron as well as the animal product iron from sources such as beef, poultry, and seafood states NIH.
See the recommended daily values here.
Signs of anemia
When you have anemia you may experience many signs such as the following:
- Pale or yellow skin
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Yellow or pale skin
- Cold hands and feet, or feeling cold in general
- Peeling brittle nails
- Concave or spoon nails
- Irregular heart rate
Iron deficiency can lead to terrible symptoms, such as those listed above but eating iron-rich foods can help provide optimal iron levels and to improve and even reverse these symptoms.
So let’s talk about the best iron-rich foods you should eat to keep your iron level where it should be.
Best food iron-rich foods
You can also choose other leafy greens that also rich in iron such as
- turnip greens
- dandelion greens and even sweet potato greens- yes, they are edible but I believe you do have to cook them.
2. Red meat
Red meat is one of the best iron-rich foods you can eat because it is a great source of heme iron containing about 2.7 mg of iron in 100mg of meat or 15 percent of the daily value of iron.
Choosing grass-fed beef is recommended for high-quality beef. And the good thing is that red meat is a good source of protein, zinc, and selenium as well.
Shellfish such as clams mussels, and oysters are among the best iron-rich foods to eat to prevent iron deficiency anemia. providing 3mg of iron, or 17percent of RDA according to USDA.
So if you are a fan of shellfish you are in luck and easily boost your iron levels by eating more shellfish.
Poultry especially turkey is a great source of iron. When considering iron, choose dark turkey meat which has a higher iron content containing 1.43mg of heme iron in 100mg serving as opposed to only 0.7 in white meat per USDA. Plus turkey is also a great source of protein, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium, copper, and calcium.
5. organ meat
While not everyone is into eating organ meats such as liver, or kidneys, if you can, organ meats are a rich source of heme iron. In fact, a 3-ounce serving of liver provides 5mg of iron a whopping 28 percent of the daily value.
Legumes which include lentils, beans such as kidney, black, and pinto beans chickpeas, black eyes peas, and soybeans are great sources of iron. Additionally, legumes are great sources of protein, magnesium, and folate making them a healthy food choice.
Soybeans are especially rich in iron and provide 8.8 mg nearly 50 percent of the recommended daily value.
And since tofu is made from soybeans it means eating tofu also provides you with another source of iron. Plus legumes also provide you with protein, fiber, magnesium, copper, folate and phosphorous, and some B vitamins. Plus with so much variety in legumes, you have ample to choose from and amp up your iron intake naturally.
Another legume source of iron is garbanzo beans or chickpeas. One cup serving of garbanzo beans yields 3.7mg of iron. Garbanzo beans are tasty and can be prepared in various ways.
You can toss them in a salad, prepare hummus or eat store-bought, or stew them with tomatoes and spices and eat with whole grain rice for a delicious and healthy meal. A bit of lemon juice provides vitamin C to boost iron absorption as well.
Lentils are another great choice as well containing 6.6 mg of iron while chickpeas contain 4.7, and black beans 3.7mg (source).
Black beans are another healthy and good source of nonheme iron. Preparing black beans with vegetables rich in vitamin C will boost iron absorption. So cook black beans with veggies such as kale or spinach, red or green peppers, tomatoes, and cauliflower, or serve these vegetables on the side to enhance iron absorption.
Fish is another great source of iron, a good source of omega three fatty acids, protein, niacin, vitamin B12, and zinc.
Sardines, tuna, and salmon are good choices. Sardines provide 15 percent of the DV, tuna, and salmon 6 percent each of the DV in about a 3-ounce serving.
8. Pumpkin seeds
These little seeds are a tasty snack and a great source of iron. According to USDA, an a100gram serving contains 8.82 mg of iron. And the best part is you can use pumpkin seeds in a variety of ways.
You can add them to your baking in bread, or toss them in a salad. All are delicious. Or even add them to your smoothies for an extra health boost.
You see pumpkin seeds are also great sources of magnesium, copper, zinc, selenium, potassium, phosphorous, vitamin B 6, folate, and many other nutrients. What a small but mighty nutrient powerhouse!
Grab a pack next time you go to the market and you will boost your iron levels as well as all those other nutrients.
This cruciferous vegetable is a real superfood and when it comes to iron content, a 1 cup serving of broccoli provides 1 mg of iron, a % or DV.
Broccoli is also a rich source of other nutrients such as folate, fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin B. The good news is that the vitamin C content in broccoli also helps you absorb iron better.
Plus broccoli and vegetable in the cruciferous family like cabbage, and kale also provides antioxidant indole, sulforaphane, and glucosinolates that boost the immune system and protect against cancer.
Eggs are a healthy source of heme iron containing 5 percent of the daily value. As well as being a great source of iron eggs are also an excellent source of protein, B12, riboflavin, selenium, and phosphorous. And eggs are so easy to include in your diet offering a variety of ways to easily prepare them.
Many whole grains are good sources of iron. However processed grains don’t provide much iron. So choose whole grains such as brown rice, oats, bulgar, whole wheat, and quinoa.
Quinoa is not only a good source of iron but is also a grain that is a complete protein providing all 9 amino acids. A 100g portion of quinoa provides 2.8 mg of iron ( source), a 16% of DV.
And the best part is that quinoa is easy to prepare, it’s gluten-free food for those with gluten intolerance, and is a great source of magnesium, folate, potassium, zinc, manganese plus many other nutrients according to USDA.
Most nuts are good sources of iron as well as other vital nutrients such as magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, zinc, and copper.
A 100mg of cashews provides 6.1mg 41 percent of the DV. Walnuts-1 cup serving of walnuts provides 3.4 mg of iron, a 19percent of DV for women and 43% for men (source).
Almonds are another iron-rich food with a 1-cup serving containing 5.3 mg, 29 percent of DV for women and 66 DV for men. Pine nuts are another amazing good source of iron. They provide 7.5 mg of iron in a one-cup serving and a a41 % of DV for women adn93 %for men.
Nuts are easy to incorporate into your diet as you can toss them in salads or smoothies, and when you do that you boost the bioavailability and absorption because of vitamin C found in many fruits and vegetables. If you want to see the iron content of other nuts, here is a handy resource- Here is a handy resource.
And there you have it. 13 best iron-rich foods to boost your iron levels naturally. Just remember to include foods high in vitamin C such as fruits and vegetables, and some root vegetables like sweet potatoes and regular potatoes to optimize iron absorption.
Also, avoid drinking tea or coffee with iron-rich foods as that can decrease absorption. Remember too, that it is best to eat foods rich in iron than supplementing. It is unlikely to take in too much iron from food but can happen when supplementing. So just eat healthy iron-rich foods and increase your iron levels fast.