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How To Get More Iron

iron, iron rich foods, plant sources of iron
 
Iron is a mineral that is important for good health. Read on to learn what foods have iron and how to get enough. 

How much iron do I need?

The amount of iron you need depends on your age and gender. Find out how much you need here

What foods have iron?

There are two types of iron – heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found in animal foods. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods.

Sources of heme iron (animal foods)

Food   Examples  
Meat   Beef, pork, poultry, lamb, duck, venison  
Organ meat   Liver, kidney  
Seafood   Oysters, shrimp, octopus, clams, scallops, crab  
Fish   Mackerel, trout, bass, tuna, sardines  

Sources of non-heme iron (plant foods)

Food   Examples  
Tofu   Extra firm has more iron than soft, medium or firm tofu  
Legumes   Red, green, brown lentils, black-eyed peas, split peas, chickpeas, soybeans, black beans, white beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, hummus  
Nuts and nut butters   Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, soy nuts  
Seeds and seed butters   Pumpkin, sunflower, sesame  
Eggs   Scrambled, boiled, fried  
Grain products   Enriched cold cereals, pasta, instant oatmeal, oat bran cereal, cream of wheat  
Soy products   Fortified soy beverage, soy yogurt, tempeh  
Vegetables   Cooked spinach, asparagus, beets, beet greens, turnip greens  
Other   Blackstrap molasses, yeast extract spread (marmite, vegemite)  

Tips to get enough iron:

  • Our bodies absorb the heme iron from animal foods best. Eating foods rich in heme iron (like meat, fish or poultry) can increase the absorption of non-heme iron.
  • Adding vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables to meals can also help increase non-heme iron absorption, like red or green pepper slices, strawberries or grapefruit.

Iron-rich meal ideas

Breakfast

  • Drink a glass of orange or grapefruit juice (sources of vitamin C) with your hot or cold cereal
  • Add dried apricots (source of vitamin C) and iron-fortified cereal to your favourite trail mix
  • Enjoy hot or cold cereal with fortified soy beverage and orange slices or kiwi (sources of vitamin C)
  • Try whole-grain toast with almond butter and sliced strawberries (source of vitamin C) 

Lunch

  • Enjoy a chicken or beef stir fry on top of whole grain rice or quinoa
  • Add cooked dried beans to beef-chili
  • Add split peas to a fish chowder
  • Make mango chicken wraps or beef and rice kebabs
  • Add oranges, grapefruit or strawberries (sources of vitamin C) to your spinach salad
  • Have hummus or black bean dip with whole-wheat pita wedges and broccoli and red or green pepper slices (sources of vitamin C)

Dinner

  • Have enriched pasta with meat and tomato sauce (source of vitamin C)
  • Enjoy a shrimp and vegetable dish
  • Add red or yellow lentils to a chicken casserole
  • Try dark green leafy vegetables as a side to pork tenderloin

Vegetarian options for iron

You can meet all of your iron needs even without animal foods. Read more about meeting your iron needs if you are vegetarian or vegan

How do I read the food label for iron?

When shopping for packaged products, look for:

  • "Iron” or “ferrous” in the ingredient list. This means that iron has been added to the product.
  • Products that contain more than 15% DV (Percent Daily Value) for iron. This is listed in the Nutrition Facts table.

Find out more about reading the nutrition label

What if I don’t get enough iron?

If you think you are not getting enough iron from food, speak with your health care provider. They will tell you if you need an iron supplement and recommend the type and amount of iron that’s best for you.
 
Do not take iron supplements without speaking to your health care provider first or call 1-877-510-5102 to speak with an EatRight Ontario dietitian. 

Bottom line 

Iron is important for your health. Aim to combine heme and non-heme iron in your diet every day. Use nutrition labels to help you choose iron-rich foods. If you think you may not be getting enough iron, speak with your health care provider.  

You may also be interested in

What you need to know about iron
Managing iron deficiency

 

Last Update – June 13, 2017

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