Mineral Review

What should you eat to get your daily iron requirement?

More than 2 billion people in the world face iron deficiency anemia. Children and adults whose iron levels in the body are reduced get tired faster, are more likely to experience colds and infectious diseases, and drowsiness, headaches and rapid mood swings become their constant companions. The good news is that iron deficiency can be corrected. The main thing is to add more foods rich in this microelement to your diet. We tell you all the most important things about where and in what foods iron is contained, in this article.

What you need to know about iron?

Iron is an essential trace element that the body needs to produce red blood cells. These cells are responsible for “transporting” oxygen from the lungs to other tissues and internal organs. In just one day, red blood cells carry about 800 liters of oxygen and 200 liters of carbon dioxide.

On a note! Iron is part of the hemoglobin protein, the main component of red blood cells.

Additionally, iron affects energy levels, the state of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT), and the immune system. This trace element is involved in many processes occurring in the body, for example, in energy metabolism and the restoration of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).

Types of iron – which one is absorbed faster and better?

  • Heme iron. This is divalent iron (Fe2+), which is quickly absorbed. The source of this microelement is meat, fish, seafood, and offal. They are rich in heme iron, which is fully and efficiently absorbed by the body, therefore, for iron deficiency anemia, it is recommended to add more heme, that is, divalent iron, to the diet.
  • Non-heme iron. This is ferric iron (Fe3+), which is absorbed much worse than heme divalent iron. It is found in plant foods – for example, legumes, nuts, broccoli. Interestingly, if the product contains vitamin C, it converts ferric iron into ferrous iron. Simply put, vitamin C improves the absorption of iron found in plant foods, such as spinach.

Daily iron requirement

The human body does not produce iron on its own. However, it is necessary for the health of the entire body, and in particular for maintaining optimal hemoglobin levels, so it is important to add foods rich in this microelement to the diet.

The recommended iron intake for women is 18 mg, during pregnancy – 27-30 mg. For adult men, the optimal norm is 8-10 mg. A little more is required for a growing body, so girls in adolescence are recommended to consume 15 mg of iron, boys – 11-12 mg.

On a note!

The body’s need for microelements increases significantly during sports, physical labor, and heavy menstruation.

What foods are high in iron?

TOP 12 foods that contain the most iron – list:

  1. Shellfish. All shellfish, including scallops, squid, and snails, are rich in iron – they are tasty, healthy and nutritious. However, oysters and mussels contain the most iron. For example, 100 g of oysters contain about 3 mg of iron, which is about 17% of the daily requirement for the microelement. Shellfish also contain a lot of easily digestible protein and are low in calories, so regular consumption of mussels, oysters and squid strengthens the immune system, ensures brain and heart health, and is an excellent addition to a balanced diet.
  2. Chicken eggs. Another available high iron food is chicken eggs. There are 100 mg of iron per 1,75 g. Even more microelement is contained in egg powder – a food concentrate that is produced in the format of dried egg mass. 100 g of dry egg mixture contains 8,9 mg of iron, which covers more than 60% of the body’s daily need for this trace element. However, chicken eggs are beneficial not only for their high iron content. They are rich in folic acid, vitamins A, K and B12, and other microelements – for example, calcium and phosphorus, necessary for the health of the body.
  3. Offal. Other foods that contain a lot of iron are liver and other organ meats. The list includes kidneys, brain, heart – they are all rich in microelements. For example, 100 g of beef liver contains 6,5 mg of iron (this is almost 4 times more than beef tenderloin!), and 100 g of beef kidneys contains 6 mg. Liver and other by-products contain heme iron, which is absorbed more quickly by the body. Offal also contains a large amount of protein and amino acids – for example, tryptophan, which promotes the production of serotonin, melatonin and dopamine. Offal has less fat than meat, which means it has lower calorie content.
  4. Spinach. If we talk about what has a lot of iron, then you can’t miss spinach. Per 100 g of greens there are about 3,5 mg of microelements, which is 18-20% of the daily requirement. Interestingly, spinach contains non-heme iron, but it is well absorbed by the body because it contains vitamin C, folate – a natural compound based on folic acid, and beta-carotene. For maximum benefits, it is recommended to boil spinach a little – literally 2-3 minutes in boiling water. And one more nuance: 100 g of spinach is a large package, so it is hardly possible to eat it at one time.
  5. Legumes. Other foods that contain iron are legumes. Lentils, chickpeas, beans, peas – choose what you like best. For example, 100 g of lentils contain 11,8 mg of iron. In addition, it is easily digestible due to the presence of amino acids, vitamin B1, and other microelements. There is also a lot of iron in peas – about 7 mg per 100 g, while the protein content is higher than in some types of meat. Beans, chickpeas, lentils and other legumes keep you full for a long time, improve heart health, and improve digestion. This may be why legumes are a real must-have for vegetarians and vegans.
  6. Quinoa. The list with the most iron in foods continues with the grain crop – quinoa. It is a tasty and popular superfood, containing about 100 mg of iron per 1,4 g. The cereal is also rich in phosphorus, zinc, and manganese. It lowers blood sugar levels, is often included in diets for people with gluten intolerance, has a pleasant taste and is used in the preparation of various dishes: from salads to soups. Quinoa contains more than 20 different amino acids, especially beneficial for children and pregnant women. A small but useful tip: before eating, it is recommended to soak quinoa to wash out the toxins contained in the grains.
  7. Fruits. Dried apples, pears, prunes, dried apricots are leaders in iron content. Of the fresh fruits, the richest in iron are peaches and apples. For example, 100 g of dried apples contain about 6 mg of microelements, while fresh ones contain about 2,2 mg. Regular consumption of fruits not only replenishes iron deficiency in the body, but also strengthens the immune system, has a positive effect on skin condition, and promotes heart health. Fruits also contain a lot of fiber, which ensures the health of the digestive system – they support optimal microflora and satiate for a long time.
  8. Broccoli. The list of foods that contain a lot of iron continues with broccoli. One head, which weighs approximately 550-600 g, contains about 4,4 mg of iron. To ensure maximum absorption of the micronutrient, cook broccoli for no more than 5 minutes in boiling water – this will preserve vitamin C. Broccoli is often called the green cabbage, but regardless of the name, it lowers cholesterol, has a powerful antioxidant effect, strengthens bones and, most importantly, provides detoxification. It is often recommended to be included in the diet not only because of its high iron content, but also because broccoli effectively removes toxins and waste.
  9. Fish. Anchovies, sardines, river bass, tuna, herring – these are high in iron. For example, 100 g of anchovy contains about 4,6 mg of the trace element, the same portion of sardines and river perch contains 2,9 mg and 1,9 mg, respectively. It is recommended to add fish to your diet at least twice a week. In addition to iron, it is a source of vitamins A, E and D, essential amino acids, magnesium and iodine. Regular consumption of fish, especially steamed fish, stimulates reproductive function and lowers cholesterol levels in the blood – there are countless beneficial properties.
  10. Tofu. Where is a lot of iron found and in what foods? The answer is tofu! It is a product made from soybeans and is rich in protein. In terms of nutritional properties, tofu differs little from dairy products, so it is often recommended for vegans and people with lactose intolerance. Per 100 g of tofu there is about 1,8 mg of iron and 17 g of protein, which is quickly absorbed by the body. Soy cheese also contains vitamins C and B, calcium, phosphorus and selenium, essential amino acids. The advantage of tofu is that it has a neutral taste (for example, like funchose), so it goes well with other products.
  11. Nuts. A frequently asked question is which nuts have the most iron? The answer is cashews. 100 g of this nut contains about 7 mg of iron. A little less is found in the same serving of chia seeds – 6 mg, peanuts – about 5 mg. However, it is important to understand that eating 100 g of nuts per day is a lot! The recommended daily intake is 30 g. Nuts are very beneficial for the body, but they are high in calories, so if you are watching the energy value of your diet, try to eat no more than 30 g of cashews or peanuts per day. Nuts will help get rid of iron deficiency, but not on their own, but in combination with other foods.
  12. Dark chocolate. If you answer which foods contain the most iron, then the list will include not only broccoli, organ meats and shellfish, but also dark chocolate. A 28g serving contains about 3,4mg of iron, which is 19% of the recommended daily value. Surprisingly, dark chocolate contains fiber, which helps promote digestive health. Nutritionists recommend eating no more than 1/4 of a bar per day and choosing chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70%. The fact is that cocoa activates the production of serotonin, dopamine and tryptophan – elements responsible for a good mood.

We have prepared a table showing where and in what foods iron is contained – you can save or print it to always keep it on hand and create balanced diets:

Product (100 g) Iron (mg)
Dried mushrooms 30-35
Rabbit meat 4,5
Pork liver 18-20
Sea kale 15-17
Egg 1,75
bananas 0,7-0,8
peaches 4-4,5
Raspberries 1,6-1,8
Rye bread 2-2,6
Buckwheat grain 7-8
Curd 0,5
Soy 14-15
Oat flakes 4,5

What happens when there is a lack of iron?

If the body does not get enough iron from food, iron deficiency anemia develops. In this condition, iron levels decrease, which disrupts the formation of hemoglobin and, accordingly, the mass of red blood cells.

At first, iron deficiency in the body is asymptomatic. If you do not react in a timely manner and do not add more foods containing this microelement to your diet, you can provoke iron deficiency anemia.

The main symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, decreased appetite, and rapid heartbeat. Many processes in the body are disrupted, which causes immunity to deteriorate – children and adults with a deficiency often get sick.

If you suspect that you don’t have enough iron in your body, consult your doctor and add more iron-containing foods to your diet. Preferably red meat, shellfish, organ meats and fish, which are a source of heme iron.

FAQ: We answer frequently asked questions

Which meat has more iron? In rabbit meat – 4,5 mg per 100 g, beef – 3,5 mg, pork and chicken – 1,5 mg. Meat contains much less iron than offal. However, in both cases it is heme iron, which is efficiently absorbed by the body.

What can cause iron deficiency? The main reasons include an unbalanced diet (refusal of foods rich in this microelement), as well as inflammatory diseases, bleeding, and problems with iron absorption.

Why do women need more iron than men? The high daily rate is due to heavy blood loss during menstruation. To restore iron levels, it is recommended to add more iron-containing foods to your diet.

This information explains how to take the right amount of iron to stay healthy.

Iron is a mineral needed by the body to produce red blood cells. Red blood cells store oxygen and transport it throughout the body. Iron is also a component of many proteins and enzymes that help maintain health.

Daily iron intake

Experts at the Institute of Medicine recommend consuming a certain amount of iron depending on age and gender. These recommendations are listed below in the Recommended Daily Allowance for Iron table. Iron is measured in milligrams (mg).

Recommended daily intake of iron

Железодефицитная анемия

If your body doesn’t get enough iron, you may develop a disease called iron deficiency anemia. This may happen if:

  • your diet lacks iron;
  • you have recently undergone chemotherapy or radiotherapy;
  • you have chronic (long-term) diseases;
  • you have lost some blood (for example, due to heavy menstrual bleeding, an accident, or during surgery).

Iron supplements

If you have low iron levels, your healthcare provider may prescribe an iron supplement. Taking iron supplements will help normalize your iron levels quickly. The amount of iron your healthcare provider recommends you take may be higher than the amount listed in the Recommended Daily Allowance for Iron table.

Taking too much iron can cause stomach upset and constipation (when you have fewer bowel movements than usual). Tell your healthcare professional if you experience these or any other problems while taking iron. Do not take any supplements without first consulting a healthcare professional.

Understanding nutrition labels

To maintain normal iron levels, eat foods rich in iron. The iron content of foods is listed on the nutrition label (see Figure 1). Nutrition labels list the amount of iron as a percentage (%) of the daily intake. The daily intake of iron is 18 mg.

  • If the percentage of daily intake is 5% or less, the product is considered a poor source of iron.
  • If the share of consumption of the daily value is 10-19%, it is considered that such a product is a good source of iron.
  • If the proportion of intake of the daily value is 20% or higher, the product is considered to have a high iron content.

You can accurately calculate the amount of iron in a product. To do this, multiply the daily intake of iron (18 mg) by the percentage of the daily intake in 1 serving of the product. For example, if the nutrition label states that a food contains 50% of the DV for iron, then multiply 18 mg by 50% (0,5). Multiplying 18 by 0,5 equals 9. This means that one serving of this product contains 9 mg of iron.

The daily iron intake in the Recommended Daily Iron Intake table is provided as a guideline. You may need more or less of it. Check with your healthcare provider to find out how much iron you need each day.

How to help your body absorb iron

Animal-derived iron, or heme iron, is best absorbed by the body. Plant-based iron, or non-heme iron, is less readily absorbed by the body. Non-heme iron is primarily found in plant foods, such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans and leafy greens.

You can help your body absorb more iron by doing the following.

  • Consume foods or supplements with both iron and increased vitamin C at one meal. Examples of foods high in vitamin C include oranges, other citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, and strawberries.
  • Consume foods with iron from both animal and plant sources. For examples of animal and plant sources of iron, see “How to Choose Iron-Containing Foods.”
  • To cook foods high in iron, use a cast iron skillet. This will increase the iron content of your food.
  • If your healthcare provider has prescribed you an iron supplement, ask your healthcare provider whether you should take 2 or 3 small doses or 1 large dose. Your body will absorb more iron if you take it in smaller doses spread throughout the day. Drink one 8-ounce (240 ml) glass of water with each dose.

Certain activities make it difficult for your body to absorb iron. Follow these guidelines.

  • If you drink coffee or tea, drink it between meals, not during them. This applies to all types of coffee and tea, including regular coffee, decaffeinated coffee, black and green tea.
  • Don’t consume more than 30 grams of fiber per day.
  • Do not eat foods high in calcium and high in iron at the same time. Examples of foods high in calcium include dairy products and calcium-fortified juices such as orange juice.

How to choose foods that contain iron

Use a kitchen scale to measure foods in ounces.

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