iron rich foods keep you healthy

Top 50 Iron Rich Foods

iron rich foods keep you healthyOur List of The Top 50 Iron Rich Foods

Increasing your intake of iron rich foods should not be too difficult. All it takes is for you to know which of the foods you eat are rich in iron, and start planning your meals accordingly. Sadly, the extent of most people’s knowledge, when it comes to iron and iron rich foods, is just too limited.

For a quick read on where to start you can read our article on Foods with an Iron Punch, but here we’ll give a much more in depth overview of the best iron Rich Foods complete with their Iron content.

The data has been extracted from the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (Release 22 from September 2009) which contains all the nutritional data for well over 7,000 food items. Unfortunately you can’t just download the database and do a quick sort on Iron content to give you the best Iron Rich Foods. Actually you can, but the problem is that the list you get won’t be very helpful in your daily life as the top items would be things like freeze dried parsley, dried thyme, beluga meat, cumin seed and all kinds of other foods you wouldn’t eat in large enough quantities to help you load up on Iron.

We have done the hard work for you and have carefully reviewed the USDA database and compiled this list of Top 50 Iron Rich Foods and have listed them by category so you know that when you eat meat what meat to choose, when you buy vegetables what to put in your shopping cart and when you need a quick snack what can help you boost your iron intake in just a few minutes.

This list is not a complete list of the iron content of all possible food items – if you don’t see it here it just means it isn’t particularly high on iron.

Eat these Iron Rich Foods, combine them with Iron Absorption Enhancers, avoid Iron Absorption Inhibitors and you’ll be well on your way to boost your Iron levels and get rid of those Low Iron Symptoms!

Breakfast Cereals:

Fortified breakfast cereal is one of your best bets to boost your Iron intake and below is a short list of some of them. As you can see eating just a single serving of these will give you around 18 mg Iron, but bear in mind that the typical absorption rate of a healthy adult is only approximately 10% to 15% of dietary iron. So drink a glass of Orange juice with your cereal to boost your absorption. Also, bear in mind that the last two items in this last are dry, i.e. before you have added milk or water to them!

Description Iron Content
(mg / 100g)
Iron Content
(mg / cup)
Ralston Enriched Bran Flakes 68 27
Kellog’s Complete Oat Bran Flakes 63 25
General Mills Multi-Grain Cheerios 62 24
Kellog’s All-Bran Complete Wheat Flakes 62 24
Malt-O-Meal, plain, dry 56 92
Cream of Wheat, instant, dry 29 51


Red meat is high on iron and it comes in the (heme) form you body most easily absorbs; typically 15% to 35% of heme iron is absorbed by your body. Organ meats are the best sources of iron within the meat category and of these liver is probably the most popular so we’ve included it the list (since we don’t know too many people who’ll eat spleen or lungs we’ve excluded these kinds of organs). If you like liver then go for goose liver (expensive, but very nice!) or at least opt for pork liver instead of beef liver. When you opt for red meat in your diet add some less standard options like Emu, Ostrich or Duck instead of beef.

Description Iron Content
(mg / 100g)
Iron Content
(mg / serving of 3 oz)
Goose liver, raw 31 26
Pork liver, cooked 18 15
Chicken liver, cooked 13 11
Lamb liver, cooked 10 9
Beef liver, cooked 7 6
Emu, cooked 7 6
Ostrich oyster, cooked 5 4
Quail meat, raw 5 4
Duck breast, raw 5 4
Beef, steak, cooked 4 3
Beef, ground, cooked 3 3

Fish and Shellfish

Fish is not often considered as a good source of iron and most finfish is indeed not, only the oily fish like mackerel and sardines provide you with a decent amount of iron. So when you want to eat fish, opt for oily fish which gives you the most iron and is high in omega-3 too. When you add shellfish into the equation suddenly we find some of the best Iron Rich Foods you can find, especially clams (think clam chowder). A quick comparison with the meat category shows that octopus or cuttlefish beat all the regular meats in terms of iron content and are only outdone by liver. So, it’s time to add some stir fried squid to your weekly menu.

Description Iron Content
(mg Iron / 100g)
Iron Content
(household measures)
Clams, canned, drained solids 28 45 mg iron / cup
Clams,cooked 28 24 mg iron / serving ( 3 oz )
Fish caviar, black and red 12 2 mg iron / tbsp
Cuttlefish, cooked 11 9 mg iron / serving ( 3 oz )
Octopus, cooked 10 8 mg iron / serving ( 3 oz )
Oyster, medium sized, cooked 10 2 mg iron / oyster
Anchovy, canned in oil 5 1 mg iron / oz
Shrimp,cooked 3 3 mg iron / serving ( 3 oz )
Sardine, canned in oil 3 4 mg iron / cup
Mackerel, cooked 2 8 mg iron / fillet


Vegetables are an essential part of your diet, full of essential nutrients and most people don’t eat enough of them, but when it comes to Iron most vegetables are not too hot. If you choose your vegetables carefully then can use vegetables to help you boost your iron levels, especially if you include some iron absorption enhancers in your diet as the non-heme iron in vegetables is not easily absorbed by your body. Top iron rich vegetables include various beans, potato skins, tomatoes and green leafy vegetables like spinach, chard and parsley. Chili con carne, which combines meat, kidney beans and tomato sauce, makes an excellent Iron Rich Recipe, but so does a white bean salad with plenty of fresh parsley and light vinaigrette.

Description Iron Content
(mg Iron / 100g)
Iron Content
(household measures)
Mushrooms, morel, raw 12 8 mg Iron / cup
Tomatoes, sun-dried 9 5 mg Iron / cup
Potato skins, baked 7 4 mg Iron / skin
Parsley, raw 6 4 mg Iron / cup
Soybeans, boiled 5 9 mg Iron / cup
Spinach, boiled, drained 4 6 mg Iron / cup
Tomato sauce, canned 4 9 mg Iron / cup
Lentils, boiled 3 7 mg Iron / cup
Hearts of palm, canned 3 5 mg Iron / cup
White Beans, canned 3 8 mg Iron / cup
Kidney beans, boiled 3 5 mg Iron / cup
Chickpeas, boiled 3 5 mg Iron / cup
Pinto Beans, frozen, boiled 3 8 mg Iron / package (10 oz)
Lima beans, boiled 3 4 mg Iron / cup
Hummus, commercial 2 6 mg Iron / cup
Swiss Chard, boiled, chopped 2 4 mg Iron / cup
Asparagus, canned 2 4 mg Iron / cup
Chickpeas, canned 1 3 mg Iron / cup
Tomatoes, canned 1 3 mg Iron / cup
Sweet potato, canned, mashed 1 3 mg Iron / cup
Endive, raw 1 4 mg Iron / head

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are great Iron Rich Foods in that they have a pretty high iron content and are so versatile that you can eat them in many ways. A quick snack on some cashew nuts is filling, healthy and gives plenty of iron – tasty too! Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds can be easily toasted and added to a salad for a nice crunch and an iron boost. Sesame seeds are used in a variety of Asian dishes and all of these can be used in baking or as a quick addition to your breakfast cereal. Just make sure you always have some in the house and you’ll soon find many ways to add them into your day-to-day food.

Description Iron Content
(mg Iron / 100g)
Iron Content
(mg Iron / cup)
Sesame seeds, whole, dried 15 21
Pumpkin seeds and squash seed kernels, dried 9 11
Sunflower seed kernels, toasted 7 9
Cashew nuts, dry roasted, halves and whole 6 8
Pistachio nuts, dry roasted 4 5
Almonds, whole kernels, blanched 4 5


Fresh fruit is not rich in Iron, but dried fruit like apricots, peaches or prunes are great Iron Rich Snacks to eat in between meals or to add to various recipes. The one thing you must remember about fresh fruit is that most of it contains a lot of Vitamin C and since Vitamin is an Iron Absorption Enhancer eating fresh fruit or vegetables high in Vitamin C with your meal can greatly boost the amount of iron your body actually absorbs.

Description Iron Content
(mg Iron / 100g)
Iron Content
(mg Iron / cup)
Apricots, dehydrated (low-moisture) 6 8
Peaches, dehydrated (low-moisture) 6 6
Prunes, dehydrated (low-moisture) 4 5
Olives, canned (jumbo) 3 0.3 mg / olive
Currants, dried 3 5
Apricots, dried, sulfured, uncooked 3 4
Blueberries, canned 2 7

Iron Rich Snacks

Apart from the nuts and dried fruit there are quick and easy Iron Rich Snacks which you can simply buy in the supermarket and use as a instant Iron Booster. Below or some examples, but if you’re planning to buy some bars or drinks then you need to remember to check the nutrition labels on the actual products you buy as the actual Iron content can vary greatly from brand to brand and even from product to product within the same brand.

Description Iron Content
(mg Iron / 100g)
Iron Content
(mg Iron / cup)
Nestle Supligen, canned supplement drink 2 9 mg Iron / can
Snickers Marathon Honey Nut Oat Bar 18 8 mg Iron / bar
Snickers Marathon Double Chocolate Nut Bar 18 8 mg Iron / bar
Snickers Marathon Multigrain Crunch Bar 15 8 mg Iron / bar
Pretzels, soft 4 6 mg Iron / large
Trail mix, regular 3 3 mg Iron / cup


Dairy products are not high in Iron, but do contain a lot of calcium and calcium has been known to act as a Iron Absorption Inhibitor so you should try and eat calcium rich foods separate from your Iron Rich Foods as much as possible. Eggs are not too high in Iron, but egg yolks are not too bad and if you can find fresh goose eggs they could be used in a great Iron Rich Breakfast!

Description Iron Content
(mg Iron / 100g)
Iron Content
(household measures)
Goose Egg, whole 4 5 mg iron / egg
Egg yolk, raw 3 7 mg iron / cup
Egg, scrambled 1 3 mg iron / cup


Iron in Foods – The Natural Way

Iron is a mineral nutrient vital to all living things. Humans, plants, animals, even bacteria and cancer cells depend on iron for growth and survival. In the human body iron has many different functions, but the main role of iron is to assist with the transport of oxygen to tissues and muscle cells.

Your body can not make iron, so the only way you can obtain iron is to absorb it from the food you eat. This is why eating Iron Rich Foods is so crucial. The sources of iron can be split into two groups:

  • Heme iron, which comes primarily from animal products rich in iron such as red meat, fish and poultry
  • Non-heme iron, which comes primarily from iron rich plants such as grains, nuts, beans, legumes, vegetables and fruit

Meat contains both types of sources of iron listed above. About 55-60% of the iron in meat is non-heme; the rest is heme iron. Heme iron is easier absorbed by your body.

Iron in Foods – Iron shavings in Iron Fortified Foods?

Many people don’t get enough iron through their diet because they eat too much processed food where all the naturally occurring iron has been removed e.g. white bread has had all the iron naturally occurring in whole wheat removed from it. Or they simply don’t eat enough Iron Rich foods like red meat, oily fish or green leafy vegetables.

In comes modern technology – processed foods are being fortified by iron. A classic example of iron fortified foods is breakfast cereal. In fact, iron fortified breakfast cereal is magnetic!

Let me explain.

Whole-grain breakfast cereals incorporate whole wheat, corn, oats, barley and rice as their main ingredients none of which are terribly high in iron. Many cereal brands are therefore fortified with iron. Without the added iron, most breakfast cereals would contain about 1 to 2 mg of iron or about 5-10% of a typical daily iron need. When fortified, whole-grain cereals may deliver as much as 100 percent DV of iron.

Iron can be added to breakfast cereals in several food-grade forms. Most cereal manufacturers prefer to add particles of pure iron metal (called elemental iron or reduced iron) because elemental iron is stable in storage and does not affect the cereal’s flavor.

When adding iron to breakfast cereals the manufacturer needs to make a decision on what food-grade iron is added. And this decision is driven by a compromise between bioavailability of the added iron, compatibility of the added iron with the cereal, processing limitations and of course cost.

A good example is ferrous sulfate which has very high bioavailability i.e. your body easily absorbs it, but it typically discolors the cereal or can trigger the cereal to go rancid.

Not a good choice for a manufacturer.

So, the most common choice of iron used in iron fortified breakfast cereal is reduced iron powder. Reduced iron powder is dark, metallic grey, does not dissolve in water and magnetic and “generally recognized as safe” by the Food and Drug Administration.

To fortify a breakfast cereal, the iron, along with other vitamins and minerals, is first mixed in with the grains, salt, water and, if applicable, other flavoring agents and/or sweeteners. This mixture is then cooked. To create flakes, the cooked grains are flattened between rollers under tons of pressure. Once the flakes are made, the iron is well incorporated into the product and cannot be seen by the consumer.

Iron in Foods – Don’t like the Idea of eating iron shavings?

Look, if you don’t like the idea of eating iron shavings then you can simply add iron rich foods like nuts or dried fruit to your cereal. Try raisins, dried apricots, almonds or shredded coconut for small but steady additions toward your daily iron totals.

Also, when you eat your cereal you would probably eat it with milk. That’s not a great idea as milk is full of calcium and calcium is a iron absorption inhibitor i.e. it stops your body from absorbing the iron in the foods you eat. Instead try using soy milk which is naturally low in calcium (but make sure you don’t get a calcium enrich soy milk!).

Oh, and add a glass of orange juice which is high in vitamin C a well-known iron absorption enhancer.

A final comment:

I’m not a big fan of iron fortified food as I don’t believe eating iron shavings is something we should do as human beings. But, and this is a big but, eating iron fortified foods sure beats having iron deficiency anemia so if you are struggling with low iron symptoms or iron deficiency anemia, I would strongly recommend you add iron fortified cereals and other iron fortified foods to your diet until you have fully restored your iron balance.

Iron Absorption Enhancers

Iron absorption relates to the amount of iron in food or supplements that is absorbed and used by the body. Generally, a healthy adult can absorb approximately 10% to 15% of dietary iron. Individual absorption varies, since there are many factors, which influence iron absorption.

Factors That Affect Iron Absorption

Absorption of dietary iron is a very dynamic and variable process. There are various players, which affect your body’s rate and efficiency of absorbing iron.

Your total iron stores play a major role on your body’s iron absorption mechanism. Your body increases the amount of iron it absorbs when your body stores are low. On the other hand, when your iron levels are high, your iron absorption rate decreases. This is your body’s self-preservation mechanism, which helps protect you from iron overload.

Another important factor that affects iron absorption is the type of dietary iron you consume. Your body efficiently absorbs heme iron from meat proteins at an absorption rate of 15% to 35%. The iron absorption rate is so efficient that the other foods you eat will not have any significant effect on the amount of iron absorbed. In contrast, there is non heme iron, a type of dietary iron not readily absorbed by the body. Only 2% to 20% of non heme iron in plants is absorbed by the body. In addition, absorption of non heme iron is greatly influenced by other dietary factors present in the same meal. These dietary factors may be in the form of iron absorption inhibitors and iron absorption enhancers.

Iron absorption inhibitors and iron absorption enhancers are the foods you eat, which have significant effect on the amount of dietary iron absorbed by your body.

Iron Absorption Enhancers vs. Inhibitors

Iron absorption enhancers are foods or drinks, which when eaten together with iron rich foods, within a meal or 30 minutes after, will help maximize absorption of non heme iron.

Consuming a variety of iron rich foods, along with sufficient amount of iron absorption enhancers, promotes increase in the quantity of iron obtained by the body. There are several iron absorption enhancers, and here are some of them:

  • Vitamin C or Ascorbic Acid – Vitamin C strongly supports absorption of non heme iron. They reduce dietary iron into a form easily absorbable by the body. Fruits and vegetables rich in Vitamin C are broccoli, tomato, tomato juice, green and red peppers, orange, cantaloupe, strawberries, grapefruit and other Vitamin-C rich fruits and vegetables.
  • Other organic acid – Lactic, tartaric, malic and citric acids enhance iron absorption.
  • Meat, fish and poultry – These foods are a great source of highly absorbable heme iron. Aside from this, they also enhance non heme iron absorption.

If iron absorption enhancers are foods which maximize iron absorption, iron absorption inhibitors are foods that decrease iron absorption. Some iron absorption inhibitors are also iron rich foods themselves. Unless you have sufficient iron absorption enhancers and foods that contain heme iron in a meal, in order to increase your iron level, you should limit intake of foods that inhibit iron absorption. Here are non heme iron absorption inhibitors:

  • Polyphenols – Found in some vegetables, fruits, wines, coffee, tea and spices, among others, Polyphenols could inhibit absorption of iron.
  • Phytic Acid (phytate) – You can find phytic acid in whole grains, bran, rice, legumes and soy protein from soy products. With just a small amount of phytic acid (5 – 10 mg), your non heme absorption rate can drop to as high as 50%.
  • Oxalic Acid (oxylate) – This acid binds easily with iron, forming complexes not easily absorbed by the body. Spinach, chard, beet greens, rhubarb, sweet potato, and chocolate, among others, contain oxalates.

Importance of Iron Absorption Enhancers

There are several instances when it is most important to include iron absorption enhancers in your diet. Once of which is, when your daily iron intake is less than the Recommended Dietary Allowance or RDA. If this is the case, you have to make sure your body is getting all the iron it can get from the foods you eat.

Another instance, iron absorption enhancers can be valuable, is when your iron losses are high. Severe bleeding from an open wound, gastrointestinal blood loss, heavy menstrual losses and many more can cause high iron losses.

Pregnant or lactating women have higher RDA for iron. Some people with medical conditions have higher requirement for iron. Aside from supplementation, intake of iron absorption enhancers, along with a variety of iron rich foods, will certainly help in achieving their needed iron levels.

Since absorption of non heme iron does not happen as easily as absorption of heme iron, you can incorporate iron absorption enhancers in your meal. This holds particularly true, especially when you are eating a vegetarian nonheme source of iron, such as spinach.

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