Iron is an essential nutrient that the body needs in order to form hemoglobin, the molecule that transports oxygen in your blood.
Therefore, it is important to make sure that your diet includes foods rich in iron to ensure that your body has all of the iron necessary for optimal functioning.
But, what are the best iron rich foods? Are there any vegan foods with iron, or are high iron foods only meats and animal products?
In this guide, we will discuss why it is important to incorporate iron rich foods in your diet and provide you with a list of the best foods high in iron to give you some ideas that will work with your own food preferences and diet.
Let’s get started!
13 Foods High In Iron
The daily value (DV) of iron is 18 mg for women prior to menopause (27 mg for pregnant women) and 8 mg for men and postmenopausal women.
Here are the best foods highest in iron to add to your diet to support your health:
#1: Beef and Red Meat
Beef, such as steak, hamburger, and even other forms of red meat like bison, are among the foods highest in iron.
Plus, the benefit of eating red meat as an iron rich food is that the iron found in red meat is heme iron, which is the more absorbable form of dietary iron.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the bioavailability of heme iron is about 14-18% compared to 5-12% for non-heme iron.
So, how much iron is in steak or red meat?
A six-ounce skirt steak provides 9.3mg of iron, which is more than the recommended daily intake for most men and 52% of the RDI for premenopausal women.
A three-ounce hamburger made from lean ground beef contains 2.5 mg of iron or 31% of the RDI for men.
We tend to overlook shellfish, particularly when discussing a list of foods high in iron, but shellfish such as oysters, scallops, muscles, octopus, cuttlefish, and abalone are high iron foods.
In addition to providing protein, zinc, and other essential minerals, shellfish such as oysters are rich in iron, with a 3-ounce serving of oysters providing almost 8 mg.
This is 100% of the RDI of iron for men and about 43% of the RDI of iron for pre-menopausal women.
Having your shellfish with lemon juice or citrus, such as lime ceviche, will aid the absorption of the iron in these iron-rich foods.
#3: Iron-Fortified Breakfast Cereal
Particularly for vegans, vegetarians, or those following other plant-based diets, it can be difficult to find plant-based foods that are high in iron.
Good options for vegan foods high in iron are iron-fortified breakfast cereals or iron-fortified whole wheat bread.
Most of the wheat flour in the United States is fortified with iron, as are many healthy breakfast cereals. For example, Total Cereal and Raisin Bran offer as much as 19.6 mg of iron per 3/4-cup serving.
Pairing your high-iron breakfast cereal with fruits rich in vitamin C—such as kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries—will boost your iron absorption.
Popeye was onto something with his love of spinach.
One cup of cooked spinach provides about 6.5 mg of iron.
Other dark leafy greens are also vegetables high in iron. Examples include Swiss chard, turnip greens, beet greens, and kale.
Keep in mind that although these are high iron foods, the iron in spinach and other vegetables is the non-heme iron so the iron absorption rate and bioavailability are much lower than that for iron in red meat or other animal products.
Again, to increase the absorption of iron in vegetables, make sure to share them with a good food source of vitamin C, such as bell peppers or lemon juice dressing.
#5: Organ Meats
Although organ meat such as beef liver, chicken liver, and kidneys tends to have an acquired taste, it is one of the best foods with iron in terms of having the highest iron concentration and the most absorbable form of iron.
The acquired taste that we associate with organ meat, especially liver, is actually due to the high iron content, as the iron imparts the metallic taste often used to describe the flavor of beef liver or chicken liver.
Chicken liver provides 12.9 mg of iron per 100 grams, and a 3-ounce portion of beef liver has over 5 mg of iron.
Although it may take some getting used to, if you are looking for the foods highest in iron to quickly boost your iron levels or the best foods for anemia, adding chicken liver to your diet is one of the most effective and efficient strategies.
Plus, organ meats are rich in vitamin D, which is one of the fat-soluble vitamins that is difficult to get in the diet and most other foods.
Among the numerous benefits of vitamin D, vitamin D functions as a steroid hormone in the body and helps you absorb calcium and phosphorus for healthier bones.
#6: Dried Herbs
We tend to overlook dried herbs as nutritional sources, but many dried herbs are actually packed with antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamin C, and iron, especially when considering the concentration of iron per gram of food.
Each gram of dried herbs like parsley, thyme, marjoram, and spearmint provides about 1.25 mg of iron, with dried parsley taking the cake as the food with the most iron per gram.
Among the foods highest in iron are legumes, which are the family of plant-based protein-packed vegetables such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts, and soybeans.
Again, keep in mind that although legumes are iron rich foods, the iron in any plant-based food is non-heme iron, which has lower bioavailability and absorption.
The other challenge specific to legumes is that although beans, lentils, and soy are some of the foods highest in iron that are not derived from animal sources, legumes contain phytates, which are compounds that can actually interfere with the absorption of iron.
For this reason, it is crucial to aid iron absorption when eating plant-based foods with iron by pairing the iron rich food with a source of vitamin C.
Having beans with bell peppers, tomatoes, avocado, sweet potato, or hummus made with chickpeas and lemon juice is a great way to help you absorb the iron in beans.
One cup of white beans or lentils provides an impressive 6.6 mg of iron, or 82.5% of the iron DV RDI for men and about one-third of the iron DV for premenopausal women.
Soybeans are one of the best high-iron foods for vegetarians because there is nearly 9 mg of iron per cup, which is why tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soy milk can also be good iron-rich foods for vegans and vegetarians.
Kidney beans, navy beans, garbanzo beans, black beans, lima beans, and pinto beans are also iron rich foods.
#8: Pumpkin Seeds and Squash Seeds
Seeds, in general, are good sources of iron.
A one-ounce serving of either squash seeds or pumpkin seeds provides 2.5 mg of iron.
Other high-iron seeds include sesame seeds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds.
One of the main reasons that hemp protein powder is a particularly nutritious protein powder choice is because of the iron in hemp seeds.
Different species of mushrooms land on the list of high iron foods as these fungi absorb iron from decaying matter and can be packed with a surprising amount of iron.
Morels, in particular, are one of the highest iron foods. Even inexpensive white button mushrooms found in every grocery store are a good iron rich food.
A cup of cooked white button mushrooms has about 2.7 mg of iron, along with a decent amount of zinc and vitamin D.
#10: Dried Apricots
If you love trail mix, or need nutritious high iron snacks on the go, add in some dried fruit.
Dried apricots are one of the best foods for anemia or low iron because there is 7.5 mg of iron per cup, or nearly the daily value of iron for most men and about 42% for women.
Dried peaches, prunes, dried figs, and raisins are also foods rich in iron.
Even if you don’t like trail mix, you can add dried fruit to cereal, granola, homemade protein bars, smoothies, or just as a standalone high-iron snack.
Seitan is a vegan meat substitute made from vital wheat gluten.
Along with being a complete source of protein for vegans and vegetarians, it is also one of the vegan foods highest in iron.
There are 5.2 mg of non-heme iron in each 100-gram serving of seitan.
Other good vegan foods with iron are tempeh, edamame, and tofu.
Keep in mind that this is essentially made entirely of gluten, so if you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, you will have to nix this vegetarian iron-rich food from your high iron foods list.
Although quinoa is usually lumped in with whole grains, it’s actually a seed and a complete source of protein for those following a plant-based diet.
This mighty starch also is a decent source of iron for vegetarians and vegans.
One cup of cooked quinoa provides about 3 mg of iron.
Some other whole grains are also relatively good sources of iron and can be decent options for those who follow a plant-based diet.
Examples include whole oats, barley, bulgur, and fortified rice or brown rice. Rice cereal also is generally fortified with iron.
#13: Dark Chocolate
We love to see dark chocolate on the list of high-iron foods because any excuse to indulge in this delicious, decadent food earns our stamp of approval!
Along with having antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, magnesium, and other phytonutrients, dark chocolate is an iron-rich food.
One ounce of dark chocolate (70-85% cocoa) contains 3.42 mg of iron, or 19% of the RDI for women and 42% for men.
Unsweetened baking chocolate is an even better source of iron, with 5 mg of iron per ounce.
If you are struggling to eat enough foods high in iron, check out our guide to important nutritional supplements here.
Also, if you are concerned that you have low iron, speak with your doctor about getting some blood work.