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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5 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!


  3. Kat says:

    How safe is it to eat iron supplements dailY? I have always had very long lasting and heavy periods and they’ve gooten worse since I got a copper spiral (I can’t take hormonal preventatives, they make me depressed and tired). I use a diva cup with measurings so I know I bleed almost 2.5 deciliters per month! I also have some issues with my stomach so I think that my iron uptake is probably quite low. The first time a nurse told me I had low hemoglobin I was 14, and since then I’ve had it several times (I notice I get very pale and tired, I want to sleep all the time, and even walking up the stairs make me dizzy, headache, racing heart and short of breath, which isn’t very normal for a physically active 25 year old…) and whenever I get these symptoms the test shows low hemoglobin and lack of iron. Since I get this so much I wonder if I should be taking iron supplements all time and how much is safe? There are all these worrying warning labels on all the pill boxes so I’m almost afraid of taking them at all.. but clearly I can’t get enough of it through normal food and I lose so much (plus I’ve read being active means you need more, and I usually run many miles a week) I’d really appreciate your help/advice on this

    • The Iron Maiden says:

      Hi Kat,

      You are right to be concerned about the safety of taking oral iron supplements. Iron is a fat soluble vitamin, which means your liver is responsible for eliminating it from your body. This elimination process is much slower and if toxic levels of iron are reached, your liver can be damaged. Children are particularly at risk of “accidental” iron poisoning and because of this risk, anything containing iron should be kept out of children’s reach or in a lock box with other medication.

      That being said, a daily oral iron supplement should not cause you to reach toxic levels unless you have established a history of poor liver function or a genetic predisposition to high iron levels.


      In a normal, surgically unaltered gut, there really isn’t a great deal of difference between the oral iron supplements currently available. When deciding what iron you should take, often pre-existing medical issues and other lifestyle considerations need to be examined.

      You eluded to having some digestive problems suggesting that your ability to absorb may be impaired. Taken under optimum conditions only 8% of traditional iron salts and vegetable source irons are converted for absorption. The rest passes through the remainder of your digestive system resulting in side effects associated with traditional oral iron therapy (nausea, heart burn, abdominal cramping, black tarry constipated stool etc.)

      If you do have malabsorption issues it is highly probable that very little of that 8% will be absorbed.

      I would recommend you consider a polysaccharide iron complex or a heme polypeptide iron supplement as they are easily digested and absorbed and the common side effects listed above are significantly decreased, if not virtually eliminated.

      The most common cause of iron deficiency in females is dysfunctional intra-uterine bleeding specifically heavy, long and/or frequent menses.

      You mentioned having problems with hormonal therapies. Do you know if they tried both synthetic hormones such as estradiol or only “naturally” occurring hormone therapies? I ask because many females have issues with “naturally” occurring hormone therapies because of the source. Most are harvested from “like mammals” specifically pregnant horses. It’s not so much the hormone causing issues as much as the “foreign proteins” so you may want to explore synthetic hormone therapy or non-hormonal therapies to control your dysfunctional bleeding.

      So to summarize my recommendations for you Kat:

      1. Speak to your health care provider regarding their thoughts on ongoing iron supplementation for you. This discussion should include baseline lab work (CBC, Ferritin Level and Iron Panel which includes TIBC, % Transferrin Saturation and Serum Iron, B12).

      2. Discuss, with your health care practitioner and/or personal pharmacist, what iron supplement best suits your needs. Look at cost per day, side effects, lifestyle and the potential effect the supplement can have on pre-existing medical problems and how pre-existing medical issues may affect the absorption of the supplement.

      3. Visit your GYN to discuss options available to treat your dysfunctional intra-uterine bleeding.

      4. I suggest my female patients increase their oral iron supplement by one the duration of their menses and for 7 days after flow stops. If your B12 is low, you may wish to discuss with your HCP about adding this to your supplements during this time frame as well.

      **Current literature suggests sublingual B12 is as effective as B12 by injection. Because the peaks and valleys common with injections are eliminated, I personally feel sublingual B12, in some cases, is better.

      I hope this helps ease your fears about taking a regular oral iron supplement…don’t forget to tell us how you’re doing on your journey to feeling well.


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