Are You Getting Enough Iron?
Pump up body and mind by adding these iron-rich foods and recipes to your diet.user rating
Iron means more than muscle. Keeping up your iron levels helps to ensure overall healthy function of all your body’s vital systems, providing energy and preventing fatigue. Check out the tips below to discover if your nutrition routine delivers enough iron rich foods and how to ensure an adequate supply.
What Iron Does & Who Needs It
Iron is responsible for getting the oxygen you breathe into your bloodstream. Every organ in your body depends on that iron-rich red blood, and consequently, so does your immune system. In developed nations, iron deficiencies are rare, with vegetarians and women of childbearing age being the most likely to experience iron deficiencies. However, the elderly, who may not eat enough, may also be at risk for low iron levels and the growing obesity epidemic could indicate that junk food may be replacing more nutrient-rich foods, compromising iron intake in people of all ages.
A bout of flu or mono, or a few days of digestive issues could lead to mild anemia, which, if not addressed, can become serious. We even describe anything weak, pale or half-hearted as being ‘anemic’. It makes sense; without iron, every organ—the brain especially—suffers, functioning at diminished capacity…and you’ll feel it if you’re not getting enough iron.
Best Sources of Iron
Iron is found in meats, shellfish and some plants. Although you can get it from dark beans, oats and lentils, food sources that once had circulating blood are the best sources for easily accessible iron. According to the National Institute of Health, anything providing 20% or more of the Daily Value (DV) of a nutrient can be considered a good source, the following are the best.
- 100% Fortified Cereal (100% Recommended Daily Allowance)
- Chicken Livers (70%)
- Oatmeal (60%)
- Soybeans (50%)
- Lentils (35%)
- Oysters (25%)
- Beans: Kidney, Lima, Black, Pinto, etc. (20%–25%)
All meats contain a healthy dose of iron, but the best source is not that juicy T-bone but, instead, chicken livers and oysters (Beef chuck comes in behind the beans at a distant 20% or less). Keep in mind, that while chicken livers are the best source, they’re also high in cholesterol, whereas oysters have almost no cholesterol. An added bonus to chicken liver, however, is the unexpectedly high levels of vitamin A, critical to the body’s ability to access the iron within it. Research has also shown oysters to be an excellent source of zinc, an inhibitor to cold viruses and a testosterone booster (the food of love, as they say).
Not into the idea of increasing your meat intake? Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian or prefer to save meat for special occasions, these foods high in iron will give you the iron-rich boost you need:
- Fortified Cereals
Dark beans are best; split peas and white beans won’t cover it. Take note: Tannins (found in tea and wine) as well as the calcium found in legumes and whole grains decrease absorption of iron. Meaning you’ll need more to get the full benefits of iron.
Ironically (no pun intended), while soy is noted as one of the best sources, soy proteins have been shown to inhibit the mineral’s absorption in the body. Another sad fact is that overworked soil no longer reliably provides the same volume of minerals to the plants we eat, so nutritional information on mass-farmed plant products may be overstated.
How to balance the scales? Pair those iron-rich beans, cereals or grains with foods high in vitamin A (such as carrots, sweet potatoes and bright green vegetables), which help the body access stored iron, and vitamin C (citrus and tomatoes), which improve absorption.
Iron-Rich Recipe Ideas
Here are two recipes loaded with iron. They’re vegetarian-friendly, but it’s easy to beef (or pork or chicken) them up for an omnivore’s palate.
Looking to boost your iron intake? Try this recipe for vegan chili.
Greek Iron Man Soup (Vegan) or Gumbo
Here’s a vegan recipe that will help you boost your iron intake.