Explore Foods With Iron

Dec 12, 2022 Healthy EatingIron 7 MIN

Explore Foods With Iron

Quick Health Scoop

  • Iron is an essential mineral for healthy red blood cells and for transporting oxygen throughout the body†
  • There are many foods high in Iron that include both animal and plant sources
  • Boost the amount of Iron you absorb by pairing Iron-rich foods with sources of vitamin C
  • Iron supplements are available if additional Iron is needed, but you should always speak to your doctor before starting one

Iron is a mineral and an essential component of hemoglobin, a red blood cell protein responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. It’s also a component of myoglobin, a protein that helps supply oxygen to your muscles. Additionally, Iron is critical for physical growth, the healthy function of cells, hormone synthesis, and neurological development. [1] [2]

Adult males should aim for at least 8 mg of Iron per day, while adult females need around 18 mg of Iron per day. [1] Without adequate Iron intake to replace the Iron you use every day, it’s possible to develop Iron deficiency. [3] Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency around the world and is more likely to affect women and young children. Iron deficiency can develop as a result of not consuming enough Iron in the diet, malabsorptive disorders, or blood loss. [4]

What foods have Iron? The good news is that there are plenty of foods high in Iron, many of which you may already consume or can easily add to your diet.

What Makes a Food High in Iron?

There are many foods that contain Iron, but they can vary significantly in the amount of Iron they contribute to your diet per serving. This is why you might see different labels on foods indicating just how much Iron they contain, such as “good source” or “excellent source”. This verbiage must be used in compliance with FDA regulations about their definitions.[5][6]

The difference between these types of labels is as follows: 

  • “Good source of”, “contains”, or “provides”: The food contains 10-19% of the Daily Value of the nutrient per reference amount customarily consumed.
  • “High”, “rich in”, or “excellent source of”: The food contains 20 percent or more of the Daily Value of the nutrient per reference amount customarily consumed

According to the FDA, the Daily Value of iron is 18mg per day. This means foods that provide at least 3.6 mg of iron per serving can be considered excellent sources of iron. Foods that provide between 1.8-3.5 mg of iron per serving can be considered good sources of iron.

10 Foods With Iron

There are two main types of Iron. Heme Iron is found in animal foods, whereas non-heme Iron is found in plant foods and Iron-fortified foods.

While non-heme Iron is less bioavailable than heme Iron, that doesn’t make it lower quality. Plus, you can increase the amount your body absorbs by pairing foods rich in vitamin C — like citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, or broccoli — with sources of Iron you consume. [5]

Below are 10 foods rich in Iron and approximately how much Iron you can expect to get from a serving of them.

1. Legumes

The category of legumes includes beans and lentils, which are good sources of Iron. For instance, ½-cup cooked lentils contain 3 mg of Iron, ½-cup chickpeas have 2 mg and ½-cup black beans contain 2 mg.

Legumes make a great plant-based substitute for meat in many dishes. For example, try them in dishes like lentil tacos, bean burritos, chickpea salad sandwiches, or white bean hummus.

Learn More: 19 Plant-Based Protein Sources For Vegans And Vegetarians

2. Organ Meat

While not as commonly consumed as other cuts of meat in western culture, organ meats are a well-known source of heme Iron. A 4-ounce serving of beef liver or a ½-cup serving of chicken heart contains around 5 mg of Iron.

3. Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds, as well as nut and seed butter, are full of protein and fiber as well as being a tasty source of nonheme Iron. A 1-ounce serving of cashews or pumpkin seeds offers 2-3 mg of Iron. A 2-Tbsp serving of almond butter contains 1 mg of Iron.

Enjoy raw nuts and seeds on their own, as part of a homemade trail mix, or as a crunchy topping to salads, grain dishes, yogurt, and oatmeal. Spread nut and seed butter on toast, serve alongside a banana, or add them to smoothies.

4. Fish and Shellfish

Sardines, tuna, haddock, and mackerel, especially canned varieties, are high in Iron. A serving of six oysters can offer up to 4 mg of Iron, and you’ll get at least 1-2 mg of Iron in a 4-ounce serving of shrimp.

5. Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is not only a delicious, sweet treat, but it’s a good source of nonheme Iron as well as antioxidants. Look for dark chocolate that is at least 70-85% cacao solids. You can generally find 3-4 mg of Iron in a one ounce serving of dark chocolate.

6. Whole Grains

Whole grains are a great source of fiber and B vitamins, and certain ones are also good sources of Iron. One of these is quinoa, which offers around 3 mg of Iron in a one-cup serving. Another ancient grain, amaranth, contains around 5 mg of Iron per one-cup serving.

Enjoy whole grains as a side dish to just about anything. Try making breakfast quinoa or overnight oats. You can even pop amaranth and quinoa on the stovetop, similar to how you might make popcorn.

7. Leafy Greens

Leafy greens may be low in calories, but they’re packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. A three-cup serving of raw spinach offers 2 mg of nonheme Iron. Pair leafy greens with a piece of fruit or another source of vitamin C, like tomatoes, to boost how much Iron you absorb from them.

Enjoy leafy greens chopped up into a salad, layered onto a sandwich or wrap, blended into smoothies, sauteed in a pan, or cooked into soups.

Learn More: The Best Green Foods to Eat & Why They’re So Good For You

8. Tofu

One of the best sources of plant-based protein, soy is also rich in Iron. For example, a 3-ounce serving of tofu contains 1-2 mg of Iron. Enjoy tofu crumbled and cooked into a breakfast scramble, cubed and roasted to add to pasta dishes, or even tossed into smoothies and homemade dips.

Learn More: Supporting a Vegetarian Lifestyle

9. Poultry and Red Meat

Red meat and poultry are high in saturated fat, but even a small serving size can offer a good dose of Iron, including leaner red meats. For instance, a 4-ounce serving of ground bison contains around 3 mg of Iron. You can also find at least 1 mg of Iron in a 3-ounce serving of chicken breast or roasted turkey.

10. Dried Fruit

Dried fruit may not be the first food you think of when you consider Iron-rich foods, but certain ones are actually a source of this mineral. For instance, a small snack box of raisins or a serving of five pitted Medjool dates each contain at least 1 mg of Iron.

Dried fruits work well in homemade trail mix, chopped up into oatmeal and grain dishes, and used to naturally sweeten certain desserts and smoothies.

When Should You Take an Iron Supplement?

While it’s best to prioritize Iron-rich foods in your diet, as these are also packed with other important nutrients, an Iron supplement may be helpful. This may be beneficial if you don’t consume enough Iron in your diet or have a condition that interferes with Iron absorption.

However, keep in mind that more isn’t always better with Iron and it is possible to get too much of it. [1] Furthermore, most multivitamins with minerals contain some Iron already, particularly those formulated for women. Always speak to your doctor first about whether adding an Iron supplement to your diet makes sense for you.

The Bottom Line

Iron is an essential nutrient that supports healthy red blood cells and transports oxygen throughout your body. Having low Iron in your diet can lead to Iron deficiency. However, there are plenty of Iron-rich foods you can add to your routine, ranging from meat, poultry, and fish to leafy greens, whole grains, soy, nuts, and seeds. If you think you may benefit from adding an Iron supplement, it’s always best to speak with your healthcare provider first.

Learn More About Iron:

  • Iron Supplements
  • What Vitamins Shouldn’t Be Taken Together?
  • What Vitamins Should Women Take Daily?

Approximately 10 million people in the United States are iron deficient with approximately 5 million who have iron deficiency anemia. [6]

† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


  1. Office of dietary supplements - Iron. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/. Accessed October 12, 2022.
  2. Abbaspour N, Hurrell R, Kelishadi R. Review on Iron and its importance for human health. J Res Med Sci. 2014;19(2):164-174. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3999603/
  3. Camaschella C. Iron deficiency: new insights into diagnosis and treatment. Hematology Am Soc Hematol Educ Program. 2015;2015:8-13. doi:10.1182/asheducation-2015.1.8
  4. Kumar A, Sharma E, Marley A, Samaan MA, Brookes MJ. Iron deficiency anaemia: pathophysiology, assessment, practical management. BMJ Open Gastroenterol. 2022;9(1):e000759. doi:10.1136/bmjgast-2021-000759
  6. Daily Value on the New Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels. FDA. https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/daily-value-new-nutrition-and-supplement-facts-labels
  7. Lykkesfeldt J, Michels AJ, Frei B. Vitamin C. Adv Nutr. 2014;5(1):16-18. Published 2014 Jan 1. doi:10.3945/an.113.005157
  8. Miller JL. Iron deficiency anemia: a common and curable disease. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2013;3(7):a011866. Published 2013 Jul 1. doi:10.1101/cshperspect.a011866 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3685880/


Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

NatureMade Contributor

Lauren specializes in plant-based living and vegan and vegetarian diets for all ages. She also enjoys writing about parenting and a wide variety of health, environmental, and nutrition topics. Find her at www.laurenpanoff.com.

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