Almost a quarter of the world’s population has anemia. Iron deficiency is a condition affecting over a billion people and it can have serious consequences.

Low iron can cause symptoms from low energy levels and high anxiety levels to restless leg syndrome, heart palpitations and increased risk of dangerous infections.

Often causing one to look pale, have brittle skin, nails and hair as well as an increased risk of bruising and injury. There’s a risk of poor work performance and even developmental and cognitive impairment.

Being an athlete or physically healthy otherwise doesn’t mean you’re immune to developing iron deficiency. In fact, it can make you more susceptible to the problem.

Knowing the best iron sources can help you be proactive in your health. You can easily incorporate high iron foods into your daily meals whether you prepare it yourself or you’re eating out.

Here are some iron facts and five of the best iron sources. Adding them to your life will have you feeling physically and mentally better than ever.

Recommended Daily Intake and Why Iron is Important

The recommended daily intake for optimal health is between 8-18 mg of iron depending on whether the person is a man or woman, healthy or not, pregnant or premenopausal.

There are four main types of proteins containing iron in humans and other mammals. Iron is responsible for the majority of the tissue oxygenation and development of hemoglobin.

There are two types of iron:

Heme Iron

Poultry, Fish, Shellfish and red meat are all sources of heme iron.

Non-Heme Iron

Though these sources of iron are harder for your body to absorb they are readily available and great dietary options.

Iron-fortified cereals, green vegetables like spinach, rice, beans are some of the non-heme iron sources that can easily be increased in most food plans.

Iron Supplementation

Many require iron supplements to keep their hemoglobin and iron at healthy levels. This can be due to other health concerns, certain treatments or medications, excessive bleeding, or poor dietary intake.

Iron Absorption Boosters

There are some things you can do to boost your body’s ability to absorb iron and use it to your benefit.

Vitamin C

Taking in 25-100 mg of vitamin C can help with nonheme iron absorption by 4 times.

Excellent sources of vitamin C are fruits such as blue and strawberries, cantaloupe, mangos and oranges and vegetables such as red cabbage, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and some peppers.

Brussell sprouts, broccoli, and other green veggies can provide vitamin C and iron at the same time.

Vitamin C is also available in supplements or in vitamin C enriched juices such as certain apple, orange and tomato.


Beta-carotene can be found in yellow, orange or red fruits and vegetables. It is a better booster than Vitamin A and can even counteract the dulling effect of dairy, polyphenols, and phytates on absorption.

Things That Interfere with Iron Absorption

There are certain foods and beverages that can interfere with iron absorption capabilities.

Calcium-Rich Food and Beverages

Calcium is a mineral that is essential to a healthy body but also inhibits heme and non-heme iron absorption. It is the only substance known to affect both.

Some of the biggest offenders:

  • Milk, yogurt, cheese, and other dairies
  • broccoli and turnips
  • almonds
  • figs and rhubarb
  • sardines

Calcium is not the only mineral that competes with iron for absorption. Zinc, magnesium, and copper are three others that can affect it.

Coffee and Tea

The tannic acid in tea can affect your body’s ability to absorb iron. Herbal teas that contain peppermint or chamomile can inhibit it as well.

The caffeine in tea and coffee can be one of the biggest hinderances to your ability to absorb iron. Coffee and tea also contain polyphenols which play a part in decreased absorption after drinking these hot drinks.

If you like hot drinks, this doesn’t mean you should reach for a cup of hot chocolate right away though. Cocoa is another inhibitor of iron absorption.

Phytates in Iron-Rich Foods

Some foods may be high in iron but because of the phytates also present very little of the iron actually gets absorbed.

Leafy green vegetables and soybeans are two such culprits. Soybeans have a high iron content, almost twice that of red meat, but only 7% of that iron is absorbed. Eating cooked spinach only gets you about 2% of the actual iron present.

Five Best Iron Sources

So how do you know which foods are the best to increase your iron when you can’t just pick the highest iron content and assume you’re getting enough. Some of these choices are also considered superfoods with awesome vitamins and nutrients.

Here are five sources of iron that will have you feeling and looking better in no time.

Leafy Greens

While cooked spinach doesn’t allow for much iron absorption fresh spinach, swiss chard, collard greens or kale can help you get your levels up.

Collard greens and swiss chard have the added benefit of being high in folate. Low levels of this can contribute to your iron deficiency.

Fortified Foods

There are several foods that are iron-fortified. Cereals, juices, refined flour, rice, and other options are available at every grocery store around.

Beans, Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes

There are several beans that are high in iron including:

  • lima beans
  • kidney beans
  • pinto beans
  • Black beans
  • Chickpeas
  • soybeans
  • peas and black-eyed peas

You have various iron-rich nuts and seeds to choose from:

  • pistachios, cashews, pine nuts
  • sunflower, hemp and pumpkin seeds

These options are healthy and viable sources of iron especially for those who don’t get it through meat, seafood, and poultry.

Seafood and Fish

Most fish and shellfish contain iron.

Some of your best options include:

  • oysters, shrimp, and clams
  • fresh salmon
  • tuna (canned or fresh)
  • perch
  • halibut
  • haddock
  • sardines

You may have noticed we said canned tuna was okay but didn’t mention canned salmon. While salmon is high in iron, canned salmon has a high calcium content and therefore a smaller portion of the iron is absorbed.

Red Meats, Chicken, and Pork

Lamb, venison, and red meats are high in iron. Chicken also contains heme iron but are not as high. Eating these with non-heme options like apricots, beans or leafy greens to maximize their iron benefits.

Including the Best Sources of Iron is Important

To feel your best iron is essential. There are lots of other things you can do to feel and live your best life.

Check out our blog posts and tips on health, fitness, and some of the best recipes around.


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