• Good Food Sources of Iron

    Image for iron Many people, especially women of childbearing age, infants, and pregnant women, may not take in as much iron as they need. However, there are many good food sources of iron to choose from. If your doctor advises you to increase your iron intake, consult the chart below to determine how much you need, and read on for some suggestions to meet those needs.

    Here's Why:

    Your blood depends on iron to help it carry oxygen through the body. In some cases, anemia is caused by a lack of iron in the diet. Iron also helps your body to fight infection and to make collagen, which is the major protein that makes up connective tissue, cartilage, and bone. Other medical conditions may be worsened if you do not have enough iron.

    Recommended Intake:

    Age Group RDA (mg/day)
    Male Female
    0-6 months No RDA;
    AI = 0.27
    No RDA;
    AI = 0.27
    7-12 months 11 11
    1-3 years 7 7
    4-8 years 10 10
    9-13 years 8 8
    14-18 years 11 15
    19-50 years 8 18
    51+ years 8 8
    Pregnancy n/a 27
    Lactation, < 18 years n/a 10
    Lactation, 19-50 years n/a 9

    Here's How:

    Iron exists in two forms—heme and nonheme. Heme iron is part of the hemoglobin and myoglobin molecules in animal tissues. It is found in meat and other animal sources. About 40% of the iron in meat is in the heme form. Nonheme iron comes from animal tissues other than hemoglobin and myoglobin and from plant tissues. It is found in meats, eggs, milk, vegetables, grains, and other plant foods. The body absorbs heme iron much more efficiently than nonheme iron.

    Tips For Increasing Your Iron Intake

    The amount of iron your body absorbs varies depending on several factors. For example, your body will absorb more iron from foods when your iron stores are low and will absorb less when stores are sufficient. In addition, certain dietary factors affect absorption:
    • Heme iron is absorbed more efficiently than nonheme iron.
    • Heme iron enhances the absorption of nonheme iron.
    • Vitamin C enhances the absorption of nonheme iron.
    • Some substances decrease the absorption of nonheme iron. (Consuming heme iron and/or vitamin C with nonheme can help compensate for these decreases.)
      • Oxalic acid, found in spinach and chocolate—However, oxalic acid is broken down with cooking.
      • Phytic acid, found in wheat bran and beans (legumes)
      • Tannins, found in tea
      • Polyphenols, found in coffee
      • Calcium carbonate supplements
    To increase your intake and absorption of dietary iron, try the following:
    • Combine heme and nonheme sources of iron.
    • Eat foods rich in vitamin C with nonheme iron sources. Good sources of vitamin C include:
      • Bell peppers
      • Papayas
      • Oranges and orange juice
      • Broccoli
      • Strawberries
      • Grapefruit
      • Cantaloupe
      • Tomatoes and tomato juice
      • Potatoes
      • Cabbage
      • Spinach and collard greens
    • If you drink coffee or tea, do so between meals rather than with a meal.
    • Cook acidic foods in cast iron pots. This can increase iron content up to 30 times.

    RESOURCES

    American Dietetic Association http://www.eatright.org/

    The Vegetarian Resource Group http://www.vrg.org/

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    Dietitians of Canada http://www.dietitians.ca/

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/

    References

    The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food & Nutrition Guide . Chronimed Publishing; 1998.

    Bowes & Church's Food Values of Portions Commonly Used . 17th ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 1998.

    Dietary supplement fact sheet: iron. Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/. Updated August 24, 2010. Accessed July 11, 2012.

    Iron and iron deficiency. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/vitamins/iron.html#Iron Sources. Updated February 23, 2011. Accessed July 11, 2012.

    Perspectives in Nutrition . 2nd ed. Mosby-Year Book, Inc.; 1993

    Revision Information

  • Join WellZones today.

    Make a Change For LifeLearn more

    Wellmont LiveWell is creating a new tradition of wellness in the mountains by providing individuals with tools and encouragement to live healthier lifestyles.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease early and prevent heart attacks with HeartSHAPE® - a painless, non-invasive test that takes pictures of your heart to scan for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.


  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.