So you need more iron in your diet. Maybe you’re vegan. Maybe you read a magazine article about how iron is important. Maybe you’re a superhero who depends on having a lot of iron in her bloodstream to gain superpowers. Maybe you want to achieve a lifelong dream of being hoisted up by a giant magnet.
Or maybe you’ve got an iron deficiency you want to clear up. Like anemia, for instance. Getting an anemia diagnosis can be pretty startling and scary.
Anemia is when your body simply isn’t producing enough red blood cells, which makes it very difficult for your body to carry oxygen to everywhere that needs it (1).
It means irritability, tiredness, and a feeling of weakness.
And it’s also common. Over 20% of women, and 50% of pregnant women have an iron deficiency. Deficiencies suck, no matter what they are.
So how do you solve it? Simple – eat more food that contains iron.
What Kind Of Food Though?
Your body absorbs the iron in the food you eat through the upper part of your small intestine (2).
However – did you know that there’s actually two kinds of iron in the foods you eat? And that they’re totally different from each other?
Actually, it’s pretty simple. The two types are heme and nonheme iron. You’ll find heme iron in foods that come from animals – because it’s derived from the hemoglobin in those animals. Think foods like red meat, poultry, and fish.
Plus, those kinds of foods give you a ton of protein, which is very important for your body as well.
Heme iron is the best if you want to get a lot of iron, because it absorbs most readily into your body.
Nonheme iron, on the other hand, is from plant and veggie sources. If you want as great a benefit to your body as heme iron, you need to eat more of it.
So What Should I Be Eating?
Let’s break this down into sections from best sources of iron to “well that’s just ok I guess.”
For heme iron, the best sources you can find are chicken liver, beef, oysters, clams, mollusks, and mussels. 3oz servings of any of those will give you 3.5 milligrams of heme iron (3). That’s good.
For 2.1 milligrams per 3oz serving, try eating cooked beef, canned sardines (in oil), or cooked turkey.
If you want just a bit more iron, these foods have 0.7 milligrams per 3 oz serving: veal, ham, salmon, haddock, tuna, perch, and chicken.
What About Iron From Plants?
Well, that’s nonheme iron, so it’s not going to be absorbed into your body as readily.
However, if you’re looking to eat more plants (and who isn’t?!) you should be eating lentils, beans, and spinach.
Other great sources of nonheme iron are a cup of cooked beans, a half cup of tofu, an ounce of squash, sesame, or pumpkin seeds, or breakfast cereals that have been enriched with irons. You’ll find 3.5 milligrams of nonheme iron in those.
For 2.1 milligrams of nonheme iron per serving, try a cup of dried apricots, a medium stalk of broccoli, a cup of enriched egg noodles, a half cup of canned beans (be they kidney, chickpeas, split peas, or lima beans), or a medium baked potato.
I Want To Get More Iron From The Foods I Eat
As you should! Iron is important, and maximizing it is a great way to avoid anemia.
If you want the most iron from your food, don’t drink coffee or tea while you’re eating it, or right after. Also avoid calcium rich foods or drinks as well.
If you want to get more iron from your food, eat it and consume Vitamin C at the same time.
If none of that works, and you’re still struggling to get enough iron, you might want to consider an iron supplement – but don’t just go out and get one. Talk to your doctor first about whether that’s the right choice for you.