Iron is a mineral that is important for the formation of red blood cells and for the transport of oxygen. Low iron levels in the blood can cause symptoms like fatigue, weakness, lack of energy and difficulty concentrating.
This mineral is important during all phases of life, but increased intake of iron is especially required during pregnancy and during older age. Foods that are rich in iron that can be incorporated into a healthy diet are red meat, black beans and rye bread.
There are 2 types of iron: heme iron (which is found in red meat) and non-heme (which is found in vegetables). Heme iron is better absorbed, while non-heme iron should be consumed with a vitamin C source to improve absorption.
Iron sources and nutritional facts
The following table outlines the amount of iron in 100 g of each animal-based food item:
|Food||Amount of iron (in 100 g)|
|Steamed seafood||22 mg|
|Cooked chicken liver||8.5 mg|
|Cooked oysters||8.5 mg|
|Cooked turkey liver||7.8 mg|
|Grilled cow liver||5.8 mg|
|Chicken egg yolk||5.5 mg|
|Fresh tuna, grilled||2.3 mg|
|Entire chicken egg||2.1 mg|
|Grilled sardine||1.3 mg|
|Canned tuna||1.3 mg|
Iron in animal-based food sources is absorbed at a rate of 20 to 30% of the total iron ingested. In comparison, plant-based iron is absorbed at a rate of 5% of the total iron ingested. This is why you are advised to eat iron rich foods with a vitamin C source, like oranges, pineapple, strawberries or peppers, as this promotes absorption in the intestines.
The following table outlines the amount of iron in 100 g of each plant-based food item:
|Food||Amount of iron (in 100 g)|
|Pumpkin seeds||14.9 mg|
|Cacao powder||5.8 mg|
|Dried apricot||5.8 mg|
|Sunflower seeds||5.1 mg|
|Dried coconut||3.6 mg|
|Cooked white beans||2.5 mg|
|Raw spinach||2.4 mg|
|Cooked chickpeas||2.1 mg|
Cooked black beans
|Cooked lentils||1.5 mg|
|Green beans||1.4 mg|
|Cooked pumpkin||1.3 mg|
|Oat flakes||1.3 mg|
|Cooked peas||1.1 mg|
|Raw beets||0.8 mg|
|Cooked broccoli||0.5 mg|
How to improve iron absorption
When eating iron rich foods, you may want to consider the following tips to ensure optimal absorption:
- Avoid eating calcium-rich foods during your main meals, like yogurt, pudding, milk or cheese, as calcium naturally inhibits the absorption of iron
- Avoid eating whole grain foods at lunch or dinner, as the phytates present in these grains and fibers decrease the absorption of iron
- Avoid consuming sweets, red wine, chocolate and some teas, as some phytates and polyphenols can inhibit iron absorption
- Cooking in iron pots is a way of increasing iron content in low iron foods, like rice
Mixing fruits with vegetables in smoothies can also be a great way to increase the iron in your diet. Pineapple blended with parsley is an excellent iron source.
Daily recommended amount
The daily recommended dose of iron varies with age and gender, as seen in the table below. Women have a higher need for iron, especially during pregnancy.
|Life stage||Daily recommended dose|
|Babies: 7-12 months||11 mg|
|Children: 1-3 years old||7 mg|
|Children: 4-8 years old||10 mg|
|Boys and girls: 9-13 years old||8 mg|
|Boys: 14-18 years old||11 mg|
|Girls: 14-18 years old||15 mg|
|Men: >19 years old||8 mg|
|Women: 19-50 years old||18 mg|
|Women: > 50 years old||8 mg|
|Pregnant women||27 mg|
|Breastfeeding women: > 19 years old||9 mg|
Daily iron needs increase during pregnancy due to an increase in the volume of blood in the body. More red blood cells are needed for the development of the baby and the placenta, which is why more iron is required. Ensuring daily iron doses are met during pregnancy is very important, and supplementation may be advised by a doctor.