How Much Iron Are You Getting From Your Food?

When diagnosed with iron deficiency, you’re bound to be told to eat more iron-rich foods, but what does that actually mean for you and your grocery shopping list? What should you be looking for? Well, that’s what I’ll answer for you right here.

Types of Iron Found in Food

Before we get into a list of iron-rich foods to add to your diet, let’s talk about the two types of iron found in food. Heme iron, which comes from meat, poultry, and fish, is easily absorbed by the body and absorption is less affected by other foods we consume. Non-heme iron, which comes from plant sources, such as fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, is less readily absorbed by the body in comparison to heme iron. Non-heme iron is better absorbed when consumed with vitamin C or animal tissue.

Although heme iron is more readily absorbed, the majority of iron that your body requires on a daily basis will be absorbed primarily from non-heme iron (approximately 90%) and the remainder from heme iron. It is also important to consider that consuming calcium-rich foods with both heme or non-heme iron can impair absorption, and consuming foods containing oxalates or polyphenols – such as chocolate, coffee, tea, and cola – with non-heme iron can impair absorption.

Iron-Rich Foods

There are many foods rich in iron to consider adding to your diet. If you’re a label reader, generally speaking, foods with an iron content of 1 – 5 mg per serving size are considered to be a “good” source of iron, and more than 5 mg per serving size is considered to be an “excellent” source of iron. Though there are plenty of other iron-rich foods out there, the following is a table of common foods most of us eat on a regular basis, and the associated iron content derived from Health Canada’s database, the Canadian Nutrient File.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and Vegetables Serving size Iron in mg
Spinach, cooked 125 mL (½ cup) 3.4
Tomato sauce, canned 125 mL (½ cup) 1.3
Soybeans, boiled 175 mL (¾ cup) 6.5
Lima beans, boiled 125 mL (½ cup) 1.9
Asparagus, boiled 6 spears 0.7
Hearts of palm, canned 2 2.1
Potato, baked with skin 1 medium 1.9

Grain Products

Serving Size Iron in mg
Oatmeal, instant, regular 1 packet 4.0
Cream of wheat, regular 175 mL (¾ cup) 1.6
Ready to eat cereals, dry 75mL – 250mL (Read product label) 0.5 – 7.8 (Read product label)
Granola bar, soft, nut and raisin 1 0.6
Saltine (oyster, soda, soup) 4 0.7

Milk and Milk Alternatives

Serving Size Iron in mg
Yogurt parfait with berries and granola 175 mL (¾ cup) 2.2
Milk, skim or whole 250 mL (1 cup) 0.1
Soy beverage, original or chocolate/vanilla enriched 250 mL (1 cup) 1.1 – 1.2

 Meat, Fish and Poultry

Serving Size Iron in mg
Ground beef, regular, crumbled, pan-fried 75 g 2.2
Ground chicken, lean, cooked 75 g 1.2
Pork tenderloin, lean, roasted 75 g 1.0
Steak tenderloin, lean + fat, broiled 75 g 2.9
Turkey, dark meat and skin, roasted 75 g 1.7
Turkey, light meat and skin, roasted 75 g 1.1
Oysters, boiled or steamed 6 medium 5.0
Shrimp, boiled or steamed 6 medium 0.9
Scallops, boiled or steams 6 medium 2.3
Clams, mixed species, boiled or steamed 5 large 16.8
Eggs benedict 2 eggs 1.4
Omelette, cheese, made with 2 eggs 1 omelette (2 eggs) 1.6

 Meat Alternatives

Serving Size Iron in mg
Tofu, regular 150 g 2.4
Soybeans, boiled 175 mL (¾ cup) 6.5
Pumpkin and squash seeds, dried 60 mL (¼ cup) 5.2
Sunflower seeds, roasted, salted 60 mL (¼ cup) 1.2
Beans, baked, plain or vegetarian, canned 175 mL (¾ cup) 2.2
Nuts (cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia, pistachios) 60 mL (¼ cup) 0.9 – 2.1

Keep in mind that, although these foods contain “x” mg of iron, not all of it may be absorbed. This could be due to other foods you are consuming with the iron. I will expand on this topic in the near future, with an article dedicated to iron absorption inhibitors!

Also, aside from looking at the iron content of foods, you should also consider the calorie value of the foods you are consuming (iron-rich or otherwise) to ensure a healthy balance.

Check out what’s on the menu at my Thanksgiving dinner this year, and which iron rich foods I’ll be serving! Also, check out these top 12 iron-rich foods to add to your diet!

Content and advice provided on The Iron Maiden is for information purposes only and should not serve as a substitute for a licensed health care provider, who is knowledgeable about an individual’s unique health care needs

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2 thoughts on “How Much Iron Are You Getting From Your Food?

  1. sharon says:

    Hi there, thank you for putting up this list.
    I have a losing blood problem, a year ago I had to have 2 units of blood. Now my doctor says it is low again, and is doing tests to see where it is going, or coming from. He wants me to take iron pills, I chose euro fer but they do not agree with me. I have been trying to see more foods with iron in them, and was wondering if there is something else i can do, besides taking the pills.

    I am 68 years old, female, and do not have a very active lifestyle, partly because of always being tired, and partly being recently widowed, have no one to do things with.

    Any suggestions?
    Thanks so much for being there.

  2. Leona, RN & Blood Specialist says:

    Hi Sharon,

    First let me extend my sincerest condolences with respect to your loss.

    Thank you for your question. It’s very easy to say how much iron is in food but how much of that iron is actually absorbed is very difficult, as there are many individual variables; Whether you are consuming primarily heme or non-heme iron foods, consuming the non-heme rich foods with foods that enhance or impede absorption, for example, are things you can control. Your ability to digest and absorb the iron (quality of the digestive surfaces, the body’s ability to convert the non-heme iron to the type of iron our body absorbs, the quality of the absorption surface, and gut motility) are unique to the individual and very difficult to predict.

    If your physician is suggesting an oral iron supplement, chances are good that your deficiency is such that replenishing it with an iron-rich diet alone would be difficult. The iron supplement you have chosen is an iron salt – while effective in a healthy gut, it can cause many GI side effects that can be intolerable and can adversely effect compliance. You may want to try a non-salt iron supplement such as FeraMAX, the GI side effects common to non iron-salts are reduced and you can safely open the capsule and dissolve the content in warm liquids or soft food to enhance the absorption.

    Please speak with your physician to ensure he is checking your iron panel and ferritin level. Blood transfusion is a temporary fix for a low hemoglobin; finding the cause is an important step in stabilizing your health and well-being!

    Please keep me posted on how you are doing!


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