I have low iron. What are some foods that I can eat to keep my iron levels regular?
Our bodies don’t produce enough iron naturally, so we need to get it from our diet. There are two types of dietary iron: heme iron (derived from hemoglobin in animals) and non-heme iron (derived from plants). In general, heme iron is more plentiful and is absorbed better by your body than non-heme iron. Therefore, you should primarily consume animal source foods while also supporting them with plant sources, in order for your body to receive enough iron.
Protein sources such as pork, beef, lamb, poultry, oysters and eggs are a good source of iron, as they have over 0.5 milligrams of iron per ounce. Organ meats have the highest iron content, but are worse for your blood cholesterol, so you may want to avoid them if you have high cholesterol. Shellfish and fish provide also provide iron, but in moderately lower levels.
For plants, serving size makes an enormous difference with respect to iron due to the variances in water weight, density and calories.
Below is a list of good iron sources from each plant group:
Produce: Asparagus, beets, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, chard, greens, kale, peas, potato, spinach, turnips, dried apricots, cherries, coconut, currants, dates, figs, kiwi, passionfruit, prunes & watermelon.
Beans: Chickpeas (garbanzo), lentils, lima, & soybeans.
Nuts/Seeds: Almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, & pumpkin seeds.
Grains: Whole grains (such as barley), oats, popcorn, rye, wheat germ & wild rice.
Foods rich in vitamin C — like bell peppers, tomatoes, citrus fruits and strawberries — can help with the absorption of non-heme iron if you eat them together with the non-heme iron sources listed above. Try wild rice with pecans and dried cherries or a stir-fry with tofu, bok choy, and bell peppers. Other combinations that work great together include salad with almonds and mandarin oranges, bean burritos with salsa and whole-grain cereal topped with strawberries.
Fortified foods, like cereals, can contain a high amount of iron, but a relatively low proportion of cereals are fortified with iron. Check the labels on your favorite hot or cold cereals to see if they are a quality source of iron.
– Debbie J., MS, RD
Debbie James is a registered dietitian. Any views or opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or recommendations of Fitness International, LLC.
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