Iron-Rich Foods to Add to Your Diet

Iron is an essential part of your diet and helps your body to grow and develop properly. This mineral is naturally found in many foods, and you can take iron supplements, as well.

Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin and myoglobin—proteins in your blood that distribute oxygen. It’s also used to make some hormones.

This article looks at iron-rich foods from multiple categories and how much iron you need to maintain your health.

Clams and mussels in a white bowl.

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Are You At Risk?

Risk factors for iron deficiency anemia include:

  • Babies from 6 months to 2 years, teens, adults over 65
  • Children with high lead exposure
  • Family history of blood abnormalities
  • Being vegetarian or vegan
  • Donating blood frequently
  • Endurance athletes, especially those who menstruate
  • Menstruating, pregnancy, and breastfeeding


Types of Iron

Iron comes in two forms:

  • Heme: Found in meat, fish, and poultry. You can absorb up to 30% of the iron you eat.
  • Non-heme: Found in vegetables, fruits, and nuts. You can absorb up to 10% of the iron you eat.

Serving Sizes

What's considered a serving size varies by type of food. That can make it difficult when you're comparing different types of food.

To simplify this, all iron amounts in this article came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and will be for a 3-ounce (oz) serving unless otherwise stated.

Iron-Rich Meat

Packed with the more absorbable heme form, meat is a good source of iron. Some types have more than others, though.

Liver

Liver has a bad reputation for flavor. But there’s no denying it’s a good choice when it comes to iron.

In a 3 oz. serving, you get:

  • Chicken liver = 10 milligrams (mg) 
  • Beef liver = 5 mg 

Liver and Pregnancy

If you’re pregnant, ask your healthcare provider whether liver is safe for you. Concerns include high vitamin A levels and the risk of toxoplasmosis if it’s undercooked. Both of these things can harm your baby.

Organ Meat

Other organ meats are rich in iron, as well. They’re sometimes called offal. These include:

  • Brains
  • Tongue
  • Heart
  • Kidneys
  • Lungs
  • Tripe (stomach)
  • Intestines
  • Bone marrow
  • Sweetbread (thymus)
  • Testicles
  • Feet

These may come from cows, pigs, lambs, goats, chickens, and wild game. Iron content varies by type and source of organ meat. For example:

  • Beef tongue = 2.5 mg
  • Pork heart = 4 mg

High Cholesterol Warning

If you have high cholesterol, talk to your healthcare provider about whether organ meats, including liver, are safe for you.

Red Meat

Red meats come from mammals. Common sources of red meat and the amount of iron in a 3 oz portion are:

  • Beef (hamburger, steak) = 2 mg
  • Lamb/mutton = 1.6 mg
  • Ham = 1.3 mg
  • Bacon = 1.1 mg
  • Veal = 0.8 mg
  • Pork = 0.7 mg

Less common sources are:

  • Bison/buffalo = 2.7 mg
  • Goat = 2.4 mg
  • Elk = 2.4 mg
  • Venison (deer) = 3.8 mg
  • Boar = 1 mg

Iron content and other nutrients vary by type of meat, including specific cuts. Lean meats are generally recommended as healthier options than higher-fat types.

Poultry

Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, has less iron but is still a good source of it. In a 3 oz. serving, levels are:

  • Turkey breast meat = 1 mg 
  • Chicken breast meat = 1.8 mg 

Iron Deficiency Anemia

Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include:

  • Fatigue, weakness, and lack of energy
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Concentration problems
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain with activity
  • Pale or sallow complexion


Iron-Rich Fish and Seafood

Fish and seafood can help you get enough iron in your diet. During pregnancy, the mercury in fish is of concern. Be sure to ask your healthcare provider what’s safe for you and your baby.

Shellfish

Some shellfish, especially clams, are excellent choices for iron. The amount of iron in a 3 oz. serving is:

  • Clams = 12 mg
  • Oysters = 8 mg
  • Scallops = 0.8 mg
  • Shrimp = 0.5 mg

Fish

Some fish are good sources of iron. A 3 oz. serving includes:

  • Sardines = 2.5 mg
  • Tuna = 1.5 mg
  • Haddock = 0.9 mg
Daily Iron Intake
CHILDREN MG
0-6 months 0.27
7-12 months 11
1-3 years 7
4-8 years 10
9-13 years 8
MALES MG
14-18 years 11
19 and over 8
FEMALES MG 
14-18 years 15
19-50 18
51-Older 8
 PREGNANCY MG 
All ages 27
BREASTFEEDING MG
Teens 10
Adults 9
Source: National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements

Iron-Rich Fruits

Many fruits contain iron. But it’s non-heme iron. That means you won’t absorb as much, so you need to eat more.

Iron-rich fruits include:

  • Mullberries = 1.7 mg
  • Pomegranates = 0.26 mg
  • Bananas = 0.2 mg
  • Apples = 0.1 mg

Iron-Rich Vegetables/Legumes

A few vegetables are good choices when adding iron to your diet. The amount in a 3 oz. serving is:

  • Kidney beans = 7 mg
  • Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) = 5.4 mg
  • Lentils = 2.8 mg
  • Spinach = 2.3 mg
  • Black beans = 1.6 mg 
  • Peas = 1.2 mg
  • Broccoli = 0.7 mg

Other

Some foods outside of these categories are rich in iron, as well.

  • Breakfast cereals = Most are fortified with 100% of the recommended daily allowance of iron per serving size on the box.
  • Dark chocolate (45% or more of cacao solids) = 5-10 mg/3 oz.
  • Quinoa = 7.9 mg/3 oz.
  • Tofu = 4.5 mg/3 oz.
  • Pumpkin seeds = 2.7 mg/3 oz.
  • Eggs = 1 mg per egg

Iron Supplements

Iron supplements are a valid option for increasing your iron intake. Because different people need different amounts, look for a product that contains about what you need—not a lot more, not a lot less.

If you already take a multivitamin and want to add an iron supplement, make sure to check the amounts on both labels. 

Supplements aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Look for brands that are certified by independent testing organizations:

  • ConsumerLabs
  • The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention
  • NSF International

Certification means the ingredients match what’s on the label and the product isn’t contaminated. It doesn’t guarantee safety or effectiveness.

Foods That Aid Absorption

Some foods can help you absorb iron better. These include:

  • Orange juice
  • Grapefruit
  • Strawberries
  • Broccoli
  • Peppers

Vitamin C supplements may help, as well.

Summary

Iron is a crucial mineral for getting oxygen to your tissues. You can find iron-rich sources in meats, fish and seafood, fruits, vegetables, and some other foods, like eggs, tofu, and seeds.

Animal-based sources contain heme iron. Plant-based sources contain non-heme iron. Your body absorbs heme about three times as well. 

You can also take iron supplements. Certain foods, like orange juice and peppers, can help with absorption.

Too Much Iron?

Side effects of excessive iron include:

A Word From Verywell

Iron is important. But it’s important to keep your levels in the right range for you. You can end up with too much, which can cause problems just like a deficiency does.

If you suspect a deficiency or aren’t sure you’re getting enough iron, talk to your healthcare provider. They can test your levels and, if they’re not in the right range, go over options for safely getting the correct amount for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What food is highest in iron?

    Fortified breakfast cereals. They contain 100% of the recommended daily amount of iron. Next on the list is oysters, then white beans and—believe it or not—dark chocolate.

  • How can I raise my iron levels quickly?


    The fastest way is to take an iron supplement or get an intravenous (IV) iron infusion. It can also help to take vitamin C, which helps with absorption.

  • What are some signs of low iron?

    Symptoms of low iron include:

    • Fatigue
    • Weakness and low energy
    • Headache and dizziness
    • Concentration problems
    • Rapid heartbeat

    If you have these symptoms, have your healthcare provider check your iron levels.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Iron: Fact sheet for consumers.

  2. National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Iron-deficiency anemia.

  3. American Red Cross. Iron-rich foods.

  4. National Health Service. Foods to avoid in pregnancy.

  5. National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Iron deficiency anemia.

  6. American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Nutrition during pregnancy.

  7. National Health Service. Iron.

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