Iron in Foods

Foods which are good sources of iron

Iron is an essential mineral needed by the human body in order to stay healthy. However research suggests that around 20% of women and 3% of men do not have enough of this mineral in their bodies. In many cases, the solution is to incorporate more iron rich foods into the diet. On this page we give you an explanation of why iron is so vital to good health, as well as suggestions of how you can easily reach your recommended daily intake of iron.

The table on the right of the page shows the RDI of iron for various life stages. It is important to note that girls and women need more iron in their diet than men; and as such it is no surprise to learn that women are more prone to iron deficiency. While we briefly discuss the symptoms of this here, we also have a page dedicated to the subject so if you believe you are experiencing the symptoms of iron deficiency, please take a look.



Why should we eat iron rich foods?

As with all of the essential vitamins and minerals, if we do not have enough iron in our diets then there are adverse consequences for our bodies. When you eat iron rich foods, the iron is absorbed into your body, mainly though the upper part of your small intestine. From here, it is used to make haemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells that transports oxygen around the body.

There are two different types of iron, ‘heme’ and ‘non-heme’. Heme iron is derived from haemoglobin (in other words, an animal source – meat) and non-heme iron comes from plant sources. The important difference between the two is that absorption of heme iron ranges from 15-35% whereas non-heme iron absorption is lower, from 2-20%.

RDI Iron

  • 8 mg Males
  • 18 mg Female 19-50 years
  • 27 mg Pregnant women
  • 10mg Breastfeeding women
  • 8 mg Female 50+
  • 11 mg Boys 14-18 years
  • 15 mg Girls 14-18 years
  • 8 mg Children 9-13 years
  • 10 mg Children 4-8 years
  • 7 mg Toddler 1-3 years
  • 11 mg Infants 7-12 months
  • 0.27 mg Infants 0-6 months

Foods with heme iron in:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Pork

Foods with non-heme iron in:

  • Cereals
  • Grains
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables

Without sufficient iron, your body can’t produce enough haemoglobin and your red blood cell count may decrease. Less oxygen can be carried around the body to the areas that need it, and this can result the medical condition known as iron-deficiency anaemia. So you can see we require iron rich foods to avoid this nutritional deficiency, the symptoms of which include:


  • Low energy levels
  • Tiredness
  • Breathlessness
  • Feeling faint
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability

Furthermore, it is important to note that due to the fact that non-heme iron is not as efficiently absorbed by the body as heme iron, allowances are generally increased to ensure that enough of this mineral is received, particularly if you are vegetarian. However, care needs to be taken not to exceed the daily upper safe limit (around 45 mg) as this can lead to problems in itself. If you are consuming too much you may experience constipation and indigestion.

List of Iron Rich Foods

Which foods contain iron?

In this section we have a comprehensive list of iron rich foods. All amounts of iron listed are per 100 g (3.5 oz).

  • Liver, goose  – 28.7 mg
  • Squash and pumpkin seeds – 15 mg
  • Liver, lambs – 10.2 mg
  • Clams, cooked – 28 mg
  • Liver, chicken – 11 mg
  • Sesame seeds – 14.6 mg
  • Wheat bran – 10.6 mg
  • Dark chocolate – 17.4 mg
  • Roasted cashew nuts – 6 mg
  • Lamb kidneys – 6.4 mg
  • Chick peas – 6.2 mg
  • Lentils – 7.5 mg
  • Cashew nuts – 6.7 mg
  • Pine nuts – 5.5 mg
  • Soy beans – 5.1 mg
  • Spinach – 3.6 mg
  •  Tofu – 2.7 mg
  • Pork tenderloin – 1.2 mg
  • Lamb, roast – 2 mg
  • Ham – 1.2 mg
  • Egg yolks – 2.7 mg
  • Spinach, cooked – 3.6 mg
  • Dried figs – 4.25 mg
  • Durum wheat – 3.5 mg
  • Dried raisins – 1.9 mg
  • Beef – 2.6 mg
  • Dried apricots – 2.7 mg
  • Almonds – 3.7 mg
  • Hazelnuts – 4.7 mg
  • Macadamia nuts – 3.7 mg
  • Swiss chard, cooked – 2.3 mg
  • Artichokes 1.3 mg
  • Iron enriched cereals
  • Iron enriched grains

As well as this list, you can generally check the labels of most foods as there will be a list of standard nutritional information. You may well find other iron rich foods that are similar to the above list or that we may not have included.  As you can see though, there are many iron rich foods so you should not find it too difficult to incorporate these into your diet if you find you should be consuming more.

Are you getting enough iron in your diet?

We cannot stress enough how important it is to have an adequate amount of foods rich in iron in your daily diet, iron deficiencies such as anemia are one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the world and is responsible for affecting a great many people. With meat being one of the most prominent sources of iron it is not uncommon for vegetarians to be more vulnerable to developing an iron deficiency. Fortunately there are plenty of other things on our iron rich foods list that are suitable for those people that choose to be vegetarian.

If you think that you may be suffering from an iron deficiency please check out our page on iron deficiency symptoms. If you are not sure as to whether you are getting enough iron in your diet through foods rich in iron then one good idea is to record the amount of iron that you are consuming. The principle here is exactly the same as that of calorie counting. Each time you eat something check on the the label/s how much iron is in the food and record this down in a notebook or on a note on your phone.

You can total up at the end of the day the amount of iron that you consumed and compare this across the days in a week or two week period. You are therefore setting yourself a benchmark so that you know whether or not you need to take a closer look at our iron rich foods list!