Eat Up! 5 Ways to Get Iron in Your Diet

Preventing iron deficiencies

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Are you getting enough iron? Every person needs enough iron in their diet to stay healthy. And if you’re pregnant, it’s even more critical that you get adequate amounts of this important mineral.

Iron is an important nutrient that your body needs. It helps carry oxygen from our lungs throughout our bodies and helps muscles store and use oxygen. If you don’t get enough iron in your diet, you may develop an iron deficiency, which is the most common type of nutritional deficiency, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Not having enough iron in your body could even lead to iron deficiency anemia, a serious condition that causes sluggishness, reduced mental function and can increase risk for early delivery in pregnant women.

People at greater risk of iron deficiency include pregnant women, who have increased iron needs because of the growing baby, and women who menstruate heavily, as increased blood loss means extra steps need to be taken to replenish the body's iron stores.

Aging adults may also need iron. As you age, the gastrointestinal tract changes, causing poor absorption of iron, which is why anemia is common in this group. Certain drugs may also cause an iron deficiency in aging adults.

To prevent an iron deficiency, women between the ages of 19 and 50 should get at least 18 mg of iron daily, according to the federal government’s Recommended Dietary Allowance. 

Here are 5 ways to pack more iron into your diet:

Go fish! Some fish and seafood are packed with iron. Clams, oysters and sardines have the highest amounts of heme iron, which is the iron found in meat and is more readily absorbed by the body. Oily fish, including mackerel, are good sources of iron. They’re also rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Double score!

Eat lean red meats. Red meat, especially beef, is a great source of iron. Beef is naturally rich in heme iron, which – along with other iron-rich meat, poultry and fish - is absorbed 2-3 times more efficiently than iron from plants, says the CDC. Stick with top round or ground beef that’s low in saturated fat.

Add liver to your diet. Most people aren’t too keen on liver, but it packs a massive dose of vitamins and nutrients, including vitamins A, B and D. One 3-ounce serving of liver can give you 7.5 mg of your recommended daily allowance of iron. Sauté liver and smother with barbecue sauce for an iron-rich meal!

Eat legumes. Black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils and hummus are all loaded with iron. Toss up a bean salad or spread hummus on a turkey sandwich, and presto! You’ve got a delicious iron-rich meal.

Pair vitamin C-rich food with iron-rich foods. Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron. Starting off the day with a vitamin C-fortified breakfast cereal and a glass of orange juice is a good way to boost your intake of the sunshine vitamin. In fact, one study shows that drinking a glass of orange juice with breakfast can more than double the amount of iron your body absorbs, says the University of Georgia. Foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits, guava, strawberries, cantaloupe and red and green bell peppers. To boost your intake of vitamin C, make a fruit salad or sprinkle vitamin C-fortified cereal on yogurt for a fast and healthy snack!  

Review Date: 
May 25, 2012