The human body can’t live without the mineral iron.
For starters, it’s an important component of hemoglobin, the protein that carries the oxygen in your red blood cells (RBC). Without enough iron, you may feel tired and dizzy, and can even develop anemia.
Iron requirements vary by age and gender. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends 8 milligrams (mg) per day for men and 18 mg per day for most adult women. Women who are pregnant should get 27 mg, while women who are over 50 or nursing should get 8 to 9 mg.
There are many ways to meet your daily iron requirements without eating the same foods all the time, so let’s explore your options!
Clams are one of the highest ranked food sources for iron.
One hundred grams (g), or about 3.5 ounces (oz) of canned clams from Chicken of the Sea contains a whopping 29.45 mg of iron. The iron content in clams can vary widely by brand, so make sure to check the nutrition label before buying.
Try adding canned clams to your favorite pasta sauces and rice dishes. You can even combine them with shrimp and other seafood favorites.
Buy now: Shop for canned clams.
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, or 53 g, of Total Raisin Bran contains 17.35 mg of iron.
Buy now: Shop for cold cereal fortified with iron.
For days when you crave a hot breakfast over cold cereal, fortified hot cereals are a healthy choice. They can contain nearly 11 mg 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 iron (such as dried fruit) along with your hot cereal.
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If you’re a dark chocolate lover, you now have another reason to eat your favorite dessert. Three oz. of dark chocolate — approximately one small bar — can provide anywhere from 5.38 to 10.12 mg of iron.
Make sure you opt for real dark chocolate, which should contain at least 45 percent cacao solids.
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While all beans offer iron, white beans pack the most. In fact, a one-cup serving contains 7.83 mg 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, include them on a salad, or add them to stews, soups, and pasta dishes.
Buy now: Shop for white beans.
Next time you go to your favorite seafood restaurant, consider ordering some oysters. A 3-oz. serving of cooked wild Eastern oysters contains 7.83 mg of iron. A 3-oz. serving of cooked Pacific oysters contains 7.82 mg.
Raw oysters are also packed with nutrients, but cooked oysters are safer.
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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 5.56 mg in a regular 3-oz. serving.
Try substituting soybeans for meat in main dishes, or add dried versions to salads for an alternative crunch to croutons.
Buy now: Shop for dried soybeans.
These pulses are relatives of beans, and they’re another valuable source of iron. A half-cup serving contains 3.30 mg. 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 spiced vegan version.
If eating raw spinach isn’t your forte, try these recipes for enchiladas, egg bakes, and curry.
Buy now: Shop for spinach.
Other great sources of iron that just missed this top 10 list include:
Knowing the top sources of iron is a good start to obtaining enough of this essential nutrient. However, it’s also important to realize that iron needs can vary. Your needs may be greater than what’s 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
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