Iron is a mineral that serves several important functions, its main being to carry oxygen throughout your body as a part of red blood cells (
It’s an essential nutrient, meaning you must get it from food. The daily value (DV) is 18 milligrams.
Interestingly, the amount of iron your body absorbs is partly based on how much you have stored.
A deficiency can occur if your intake is too low to replace the amount you lose every day (
Iron deficiency can cause anemia and lead to symptoms like fatigue. Menstruating women who don't consume iron-rich foods are at a particularly high risk for deficiency.
Luckily, there are plenty of good food choices to help you meet your daily iron needs.
Here are 16 healthy foods that are high in iron.
Shellfish is tasty and nutritious. All shellfish is high in iron, but clams, oysters, and mussels are particularly good sources.
For instance, a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of clams may contain up to 3 mg of iron, which is 17% of the DV (
However, the iron content of clams is highly variable, and some types may contain much lower amounts (4).
The iron in shellfish is heme iron, which your body absorbs more easily than the non-heme iron found in plants.
A 3.5-ounce serving of clams also provides 26 grams of protein, 24% of the DV for vitamin C, and a whopping 4,125% of the DV for vitamin B-12.
In fact, all shellfish is high in nutrients and has been shown to increase the level of heart-healthy HDL cholesterol in your blood (
Summary A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of clams provides 17% of the DV for iron. Shellfish is also rich in many other nutrients and may increase “good” HDL cholesterol levels in your blood.
Spinach provides many health benefits for very few calories.
About 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of raw spinach contain 2.7 mg of iron, or 15% of the DV (
Although this is non-heme iron, which isn't absorbed very well, spinach is also rich in vitamin C.
Summary Spinach provides 15% of the DV for iron per serving, along with several vitamins and minerals. It also contains important antioxidants.
3. Liver and other organ meats
Organ meats are extremely nutritious. Popular types include liver, kidneys, brain, and heart — all of which are high in iron.
For example, a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of beef liver contains 6.5 mg of iron, or 36% of the DV (
Organ meats are also high in protein and rich in B vitamins, copper, and selenium. Liver is especially high in vitamin A, providing an impressive 1,049% of the DV per 3.5-ounce serving.
Summary Organ meats are good sources of iron, and liver contains 36% of the DV per serving. Organ meats are also rich in many other nutrients, such as selenium, vitamin A, and choline.
Legumes are loaded with nutrients.
Some of the most common types of legumes are beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas, and soybeans.
They're a great source of iron, especially for vegetarians. One cup (198 grams) of cooked lentils contains 6.6 mg, which is 37% of the DV (
Beans such as black beans, navy beans, and kidney beans can all help easily bump up your iron intake.
In fact, a half-cup (86-gram) serving of cooked black beans provides around 1.8 grams of iron, or 10% of the DV (
What's more, studies have shown that beans and other legumes can reduce inflammation in people with diabetes. Legumes can also decrease heart disease risk for people with metabolic syndrome (
Additionally, legumes may help you lose weight. They're very high in soluble fiber, which can increase feelings of fullness and reduce calorie intake (
In order to maximize iron absorption, consume legumes with foods high in vitamin C, such as tomatoes, greens, or citrus fruits.
Summary One cup (198 grams) of cooked lentils provides 37% of the DV for iron. Legumes are also high in folate, magnesium, potassium, and fiber and may even aid weight loss.
5. Red meat
Researchers have suggested that iron deficiency may be less likely in people who eat meat, poultry, and fish on a regular basis (
In fact, red meat is probably the single most easily accessible source of heme iron, potentially making it an important food for people who are prone to anemia.
In one study looking at changes in iron stores after aerobic exercise, women who consumed meat retained iron better than those who took iron supplements (
Summary One serving of ground beef contains 15% of the DV for iron and is one of the most easily accessible sources of heme iron. It’s also rich in B vitamins, zinc, selenium, and high-quality protein.
6. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds are a tasty, portable snack.
A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of pumpkin seeds contains 2.5 mg of iron, which is 14% of the DV (
Summary Pumpkin seeds provide 14% of the DV for iron per 1-ounce serving. They’re also a good source of several other nutrients, particularly magnesium.
Quinoa is also higher in protein than many other grains, as well as rich in folate, magnesium, copper, manganese, and many other nutrients.
In addition, quinoa has more antioxidant activity than many other grains. Antioxidants help protect your cells from the damage done by free radicals, which are formed during metabolism and in response to stress (
Summary Quinoa provides 16% of the DV for iron per serving. It also contains no gluten and is high in protein, folate, minerals, and antioxidants.
Turkey meat is a healthy and delicious food. It's also a good source of iron — especially dark turkey meat.
A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) portion of dark turkey meat has 1.43 mg of iron, which is 8% of the DV (
In comparison, the same amount of white turkey meat contains only 0.7 mg (
Dark turkey meat also packs an impressive 28 grams of protein per serving and several B vitamins and minerals, including 32% of the DV for zinc and 57% of the DV for selenium.
Summary Turkey provides 13% of the DV for iron and is a good source of several vitamins and minerals. Its high protein content promotes fullness, increases metabolism, and prevents muscle loss.
Broccoli is incredibly nutritious. A 1-cup (156-gram) serving of cooked broccoli contains 1 mg of iron, which is 6% of the DV (
The same serving size is also high in folate and provides 5 grams of fiber, as well as some vitamin K.
Broccoli is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, which also includes cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage.
Summary One serving of broccoli provides 6% of the DV for iron and is very high in vitamins C, K, and folate. It may also help reduce cancer risk.
Tofu is a soy-based food that's popular among vegetarians and in some Asian countries.
A half-cup (126-gram) serving provides 3.4 mg of iron, which is 19% of the DV (
Tofu is also a good source of thiamine and several minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and selenium. In addition, it provides 22 grams of protein per serving.
Summary Tofu provides 19% of the DV for iron per serving and is rich in protein and minerals. Its isoflavones may improve heart health and relieve menopausal symptoms.
11. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is incredibly delicious and nutritious.
A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving contains 3.4 mg of iron, which is 19% of the DV (
This small serving also packs 56% and 15% of the DVs for copper and magnesium, respectively.
However, not all chocolate is created equal. It's believed that compounds called flavanols are responsible for chocolate's benefits, and the flavanol content of dark chocolate is much higher than that of milk chocolate (57).
Therefore, it's best to consume chocolate with a minimum of 70% cocoa to get the maximum benefits.
Summary A small serving of dark chocolate contains 19% of the DV for iron along with several minerals and prebiotic fiber that promotes gut health.
Fish is a highly nutritious ingredient, and certain varieties like tuna are especially high in iron.
In fact, a 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of canned tuna contains about 1.4 mg of iron, which is approximately 8% of the DV (
Fish is also brimming with omega-3 fatty acids, which are a type of heart-healthy fat associated with a number of health benefits.
In particular, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to promote brain health, enhance immune function, and support healthy growth and development (
Fish also contains several other essential nutrients, including niacin, selenium, and vitamin B-12 (
Summary A serving of canned tuna can provide about 8% of the DV for iron. Fish is also a good source of several other important nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.
The bottom line
Iron is an important mineral that must be consumed regularly as your body cannot produce it on its own.
Yet, it should be noted that some people need to limit their intake of red meat and other foods high in heme iron.
However, most people are easily able to regulate the amount they absorb from food.
Remember that if you don't eat meat or fish, you can boost absorption by including a source of vitamin C when eating plant sources of iron.