Iron is a mineral the human body can’t live without. For starters, it’s an important component of the protein called hemoglobin that carries the oxygen in your red blood cells. Without enough iron, you may feel tired and dizzy, and can even develop anemia.
Iron requirements vary by age and gender. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting 8mg per day for men, and 18mg per day for women who are not pregnant or nursing.
There are many ways to meet your daily iron requirements without eating the same foods all the time, so let’s explore your options!
1. Canned Clams
Clams are one of the highest ranked food sources for iron. A three-ounce serving of canned clams contains a whopping 23.8mg of iron. Try adding them to your favorite pasta sauces and rice dishes. You can even combine them with shrimp and other seafood favorites.
2. Fortified Breakfast Cereals
Breakfast cereals are often a main source of iron, but you have to choose the right types. Sugar-laden cereals you might have eaten as a kid aren’t the best choice. The key is to look for a fortified cereal that contains 100 percent of your daily value of iron. A one-cup serving of cereal contains 18mg of iron.
3. Cooked Oysters
Next time you go to your favorite seafood restaurant, consider ordering some oysters. A three-ounce serving contains 10.2mg of iron. Raw oysters are also packed with nutrients, but cooked oysters are safer.
4. White Beans
While all beans offer iron, white beans pack the most. In fact, a one-cup serving contains 8mg of iron. If you don’t have time to sort and soak dry beans, try canned versions — just watch the sodium content. You can enjoy white beans by themselves, in a salad, or add them to stews, soups, and pasta dishes.
5. Fortified Hot Cereals
For days when you crave a hot breakfast over cold cereal, fortified hot cereals can contain 4.9-8.1mg of iron per instant packet, depending on the brand. While this is a fraction of the amount of iron found in fortified dry cereals, you can still meet your daily iron requirements by eating other sources of the mineral along with your hot cereal.
6. Dark Chocolate
If you’re a dark chocolate lover, now you have another reason to eat your favorite dessert. Three ounces of dark chocolate — approximately one small bar — contains about 7mg of iron. Make sure you opt for real dark chocolate, which should contain 45 to 69 percent cacao solids.
7. Organ Meats
While organ meats are often overlooked, they’re a great source of vital nutrients, including iron. The exact amount depends on the type of organ, as well as its source. Beef liver, for example, has 5mg of iron per a regular 3oz serving.
Soybeans are an ideal protein source in vegetarian diets, but these nutrient-dense legumes are good for everyone. A half-cup serving contains 4.4mg of iron. Try substituting soybeans for meat in main dishes, or add dried versions to salads for an alternative crunch to croutons.
These pulses are relatives of beans, and are another valuable source of iron. A half-cup serving contains just over 3mg of iron. The advantage of using lentils over beans is that they have a faster cooking time.
Next time you’re in the mood for a bowl of soup, whip up this lentil and garbanzo bean recipe.
Spinach is famous for its vitamin A content, but it is also a valuable source of iron: a half-cup of it contains about 3mg. If eating raw spinach isn’t your forte, try this recipe for a spinach and mushroom frittata.
Determine Your Iron Needs
Knowing the top sources of iron is a good kick-start to obtaining enough of this essential nutrient. But it’s also important to realize that iron needs can vary, and may be greater than what is considered normal for your age and gender. This is especially true if you’re already iron deficient, or are prone to anemia.
Ask your doctor or dietitian for specific iron recommendations if you:
- have recently lost a lot of blood
- take blood thinners
- have a history of kidney disease
- are over the age of 65
- have heavy menstrual periods