Certain vegetables, including potatoes and leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and legumes, can help you achieve your necessary iron intake on a vegetarian diet.

Iron is a necessary nutrient for many bodily functions. Iron is found in either heme or non-heme forms: heme comes from animal products, and non-heme comes from plants.

An iron deficiency can cause low energy, breathlessness, headaches, irritability, dizziness, or anemia.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for males assigned at birth (MAAB) and females assigned at birth (FAAB) is about 8–18 milligrams (mg) of iron per day, depending on your age and sex.

Children and adolescents may need more or less depending on their age, and the amount you need can also vary from person to person. For people who are breastfeeding or pregnant, your needs increase to 9–27 mg per day.

The following tables include plant foods high in iron based on the standard 8 mg RDA for adults. If you are vegetarian and vegan, your RDA is 1.8 times higher (14.4–32.4 mg daily) because non-heme iron from plants doesn’t absorb as well as heme iron from animal products.

1. What legumes have the most iron?

Legumes, including beans, peas, and lentils, are great sources of iron.

Listed below are the varieties containing the most iron, from lowest to highest:

FoodIron value
tofu1.5 mg per 100 grams (g) (19% of RDA)
lima beans4.1 mg per cup cooked (51% of RDA)
black-eyed peas4.3 mg per cup cooked (53% of RDA)
navy beans4.3 mg per cup cooked (53% of RDA)
tempeh4.5 mg per cup (56% of RDA)
chickpeas4.7 mg per cup cooked (58% of RDA)
red kidney beans5.2 mg per cup cooked (65% of RDA)
lentils6.6 mg per cup cooked (82% of RDA)
white beans6.6 mg per cup cooked (82% of RDA)
soybeans9.9 mg per cup raw (123% of RDA)
natto (fermented soybeans)15.1 mg per cup cooked (188% of RDA)

Learn about the other health benefits of beans and peas.

2. Which nuts and seeds contain the most iron?

Nuts and seeds serve as two more iron-rich plant sources.

Those who wish to increase their total daily iron intake should add the following varieties to their diet, as they contain the highest amounts:

FoodIron value
macadamia nuts3.5 mg per cup dry roasted (43% of RDA)
almonds5.3 mg per cup whole (66% of RDA)
pine nuts7.5 mg per cup dried (93% of RDA)
cashews7.8 mg per cup whole (97% of RDA)
flaxseeds9.6 mg per cup whole (120% of RDA)
pumpkin seeds11.4 mg per cup dried (140% of RDA)
sesame seeds21 mg per cup dried (262% of RDA); 1.3 mg per 2 tablespoons (tbs) of tahini (16% of RDA)

Learn about the other nutritional advantages of seeds, nuts, and nut butter.

3. What vegetables are high in iron?

Vegetables often have higher iron content than meats and eggs, though non-heme iron is less easily absorbed. To maximize iron absorption, consume them cooked and with vitamin C-rich foods.

Tomatoes contain more iron when dried or concentrated, and potatoes have higher iron when unpeeled in their skins. Sweet potatoes offer a good amount of iron even when peeled.

The following vegetables and vegetable-derived products offer the most iron per serving:

FoodIron value
broccoli1 mg per cup chopped, cooked (12% of RDA)
oyster mushrooms1.1 mg per cup raw (13% of RDA)
Brussels sprouts1.8 mg per cup cooked (22% of RDA)
potatoes1.9 mg per large unpeeled potato (23% of RDA)
tomato paste and canned tomatoes2 mg per 1/4 cup (25% of DV) and 2.4 mg per cup (30% of RDA)
sweet potatoes2.2 mg per large peeled sweet potato (27% of RDA)
sun-dried tomatoes2.5 mg per half cup (31% of RDA)
beet greens2.7 mg per cup cooked (33% of RDA)
white mushrooms2.7 mg per cup cooked (33% of RDA)
Swiss chard3.9 mg per cup cooked (48% of RDA)
palm hearts4.6 mg per cup canned (57% of RDA)
spinach5.7 mg per cup cooked (71% of RDA)

Learn more about the nutritional benefits of tomatoes, potatoes, and leafy greens.

4. What fruits have the most iron?

Fruit is not commonly the food group that people turn to when wanting to increase the iron content of their diet. Nevertheless, some fruits are surprisingly high in iron.

Here are the best sources of iron in this category.

mulberries2.6 mg per cup (32% of RDA)
prune juice2.9 mg per cup (36% of RDA)
black olives8.5 mg per cup raw (100% of RDA)

Learn about the other nutritional benefits of olives, mulberries, and prune juice.

5. What whole grain foods contain the most iron?

While whole grains have various health benefits, not all grains are equally beneficial.

For instance, grain processing and refining typically removes parts of the grain that contain fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals — including iron.

For this reason, whole grains typically contain more iron than refined grains. That said, most refined grain products are fortified with iron, so they can still be good sources.

The following are types of whole grains containing the most iron per portion.

oats1.2 mg per cup cooked (15% of RDA)
quinoa2.8 mg per cup cooked (35% of RDA)
spelt3.7 mg per 100 g flour (46% of RDA)
amaranth5.2 mg per cup cooked (65% of RDA)
Cheerios breakfast cereal8.1 mg per cup (100% of RDA)
Special K breakfast cereal8.7 mg per cup (108% of RDA)

Learn about some of the healthiest whole-grain foods.

6. What other foods contain the most iron?

Certain foods do not fit in one of the food groups above yet contain significant amounts of iron. Adding them to your diet can help you meet your recommended daily iron intake.

dried thyme1.2 mg or 1 tsp dried (15% of RVA)
blackstrap molasses1.9 mg or 2 tbs (23% of RVA)
dark chocolate3.4 mg/oz (42% of RVA)
canned coconut milk 7.5 mg per cup (93% of RVA)

Learn more about the nutritional benefits of canned coconut milk, molasses, dark chocolate, and thyme.

How can I increase iron absorption from plant foods?

Various strategies can help you increase your body’s ability to absorb non-heme iron. Here are the best-researched methods:

  • Eat vitamin C-rich foods: Consuming vitamin C-rich foods at the same time as foods rich in non-heme iron can help increase iron absorption.
  • Avoid coffee and tea with meals: Drinking coffee and tea can reduce iron absorption.
  • Soak, sprout, and ferment: Soaking, sprouting, and fermenting grains and legumes can improve iron absorption by lowering the amount of phytates naturally present in these foods.
  • Use a cast iron pan: Foods prepared in a cast iron pan may provide more iron than those prepared in non-iron cookware.
  • Consume lysine-rich foods: Plant foods like legumes and quinoa are rich in the amino acid lysine and may increase iron absorption.

What food is highest in iron?

According to the Dietary Guidelines of America, iron-fortified, whole grain cereals contain the most iron, with about 16.2 mg per standard serving.

What are the 10 foods highest in iron?

The Dietary Guidelines of America list the following 10 foods as the highest in iron concentration:

  1. fortified whole grain, wheat, oat, and bran cereals
  2. oysters
  3. mussels
  4. duck breast
  5. turkey eggs
  6. bison
  7. duck eggs
  8. beef
  9. canned sardines
  10. crab

That said, how you define foods with the most iron can vary based on how you calculate the contents and the types of servings you are using.

Learn more about Healthline’s top 10 foods high in iron and 12 more healthy foods high in iron.

The bottom line

Iron is a nutrient that’s essential for the human body. This mineral can be found in various foods, including many plant foods.

Besides being a good source of iron, the plant foods listed in this article also contain various other nutrients and beneficial plant compounds.

Thus, adding them to your diet will not only help you meet your iron requirements but will also likely benefit your overall health.