Top 10 Foods High in Iron: Iron Content, Nutrition, and More
Nonheme iron is harder for the body to absorb, according to 2014 research. Yet sources of nonheme iron — such as plant-based foods — still offer essential nutrients.
You can eat both heme and nonheme sources of iron as part of a healthy and balanced diet.
This article will discuss which foods are high in iron, including how much of your daily recommended intake of iron is in each food. It will also explain appropriate intake levels of iron and other important factors that support nutritional health.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes that the daily value (DV) of iron for people over age 4 is 18 milligrams (mg). DV refers to the general recommendation for how much of a nutrient you should consume in a day.
Depending on individual factors, though, you may need to consume more or less iron than the DV.
Recommended dietary allowances (RDA) and adequate intake (AI) values outline how appropriate iron intake may vary depending on factors such as age, sex assigned at birth, and pregnancy or lactation status.
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service notes that most people should be able to meet their daily iron needs from diet alone.
The following table outlines the recommended intake of iron depending on these factors, according to the NIH:
|Age||Male||Female||While pregnant||While lactating|
|Birth to 6 months old||0.27 mg||0.27 mg|
|7–12 months old||11 mg||11 mg|
|1–3 years old||7 mg||7 mg|
|4–8 years old||10 mg||10 mg|
|9–13 years old||8 mg||8 mg|
|14–18 years old||11 mg||15 mg||27 mg||10 mg|
|19–50 years old||8 mg||18 mg||27 mg||9 mg|
|51 years old or over||8 mg||8 mg|
Learn more about the benefits of iron and recommended doses for females.
Half a cup of boiled spinach provides 3 mg of iron, which is approximately 17% of the DV (% DV) for iron.
Other dark leafy greens are also rich sources of nutrients. These can include:
- Swiss chard
- beet greens
- collard greens
Spinach and other dark leafy greens, such as kale, are also high in vitamin C, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Vitamin C helps increase iron absorption, including nonheme iron.
Not only are artichokes a good source of iron, but they are also rich in the prebiotic fiber inulin, 2020 research suggests. Inulin can help to support the good bacteria in your gut and other aspects of digestive health.
A cup of cooked Jerusalem artichokes contains 5.1 mg of iron, which is 28.3% DV for iron.
Some nuts can be a rich source of iron and other nutrients.
This can include cashew nuts. Per 1-ounce (oz) serving, or 18 oil-roasted nuts, cashews can contain 2 mg of iron, or 11% DV. Dry roasted pistachio nuts can also contain 6 mg of iron, or 6% of the DV, per 1-oz serving, or 49 nuts.
Legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils are great sources of iron, protein, fiber, and other vitamins and minerals.
The following table outlines how much iron different types of legumes can contain when cooked, according to the USDA:
|Type||Amount of iron per half-cup serving||% DV|
|white beans||3.3 mg||18%|
|chickpeas (garbanzo beans)||2.4 mg||13%|
|navy beans||2.2 mg||12%|
|lima beans||2.1 mg||12%|
|kidney beans||2 mg||11%|
Learn more about the benefits and recommended intakes of protein and carbohydrates such as fiber.
A 1-oz, or 28-g, serving of dark chocolate made of 70–85% cacao solids can contain 3.37 mg of iron, which is almost 19% DV for iron. For reference, many bars of dark chocolate contain about 3 oz.
Experts associate many additional health benefits with dark chocolate.
For example, chocolate is rich in bioactive compounds known as flavanols and in prebiotics. Researchers from a 2019 study suggest that flavanols from cocoa may have antioxidant and antioxidant effects, among other potential benefits, such as the ability to reduce fats and glucose in the blood.
Some manufacturers prepare chocolate by using a process called alkalization. This process may reduce some beneficial compounds, per 2022 research. Try to look for non-alkalized chocolate that is lower in added sugars for optimal benefits.
Bivalve shellfish, such as oysters and mussels, are rich in bioavailable nutrients such as zinc, selenium, and vitamin B12, according to the USDA. Bioavailability refers to how well your body absorbs the nutrients from food during digestion.
These foods can also be high in iron, per the USDA. For example:
- 3 oysters can contain 6.9 mg of iron, or around 38% DV.
- 3 oz of mussels can contain 5.7 mg iron, or around 31% DV.
- 3 oz of clams can contain 2.4 mg iron, or around 13% DV.
Organ meats can be very high in iron and other nutrients, such as copper, choline, and A and B vitamins.
Organ meats can also be a rich source of iron. For example, 4 oz of beef liver, or approximately 113 grams (g), can contain just over 30% DV for iron.
The USDA also suggests that organ meats can generally range from having 1.8–19 mg of iron or 10–105% DV per 3-oz serving, depending on the meat.
Other types of red meat can also be high in iron and other nutrients, such as protein, zinc, and B vitamins. For example, a 3-oz serving of beef meat also contains 2.5 mg of heme iron, or almost 14% DV.
According to the NIH, half a cup of firm tofu can contain 3 mg of iron per serving, or 17% DV.
Tofu is high in protein and low in cholesterol and saturated fats, according to the USDA. Tofu and fortified tofu options can also be high in other important nutrients.
Some fruits have relatively high iron levels. These fruits can include:
- dried apricots, which may contain 4.26 mg iron per 1 cup, or over 23% DV
- prune juice, which can contain around 3 mg per 1 cup, or over 16% DV
- black olives, which can contain 7.2 mg of iron per 100 g or 3.5 oz, or 40% DV.
Most fruits contain other important nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Olives also contain beneficial plant compounds, such as oleuropein. A 2017 critical review suggests that the nutrients in olives have several health benefits, including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
According to the USDA, a 31-g serving, or around 3 tablespoons, of unsalted raw pumpkin seeds can contain 4 mg of iron, which is 22% DV.
Pumpkin seeds are also rich in magnesium, vitamin K, zinc, and manganese.
According to a 2018 study, approximately 50% of Americans take in less than the estimated average requirement for magnesium. Pumpkin seeds may be an accessible, convenient source of nutrients.
Additionally, 3 tablespoons of hulled hemp seeds can offer 2.38 mg of iron, or over 13% DV.
Many other foods can be high in iron, per the NIH. These include:
- fortified cereals or rice
- blackstrap molasses
- baked potato with skin
- canned, stewed tomatoes
- whole wheat bread
- hard-boiled eggs
The NIH outlines that vitamin C can improve the absorption and bioavailability of iron, including nonheme iron.
According to the NIH, some foods that are good sources of both iron and vitamin C include:
- dark leafy greens or cruciferous vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli
Other foods high in vitamin C include:
- citrus fruits, such as oranges
- berries, such as strawberries
- bell peppers
- green peas
- purple cabbage
Iron is an essential mineral that we must consume in our diet. For most people over age 4, the recommended DV for iron is 18 mg per day.
There are two types of dietary iron, which differ slightly. Your body more easily absorbs heme iron than nonheme iron. Heme iron is generally present in animal products. Yet vitamin C can increase the bioavailability of nonheme iron.
Sources of heme and nonheme iron include meat, beans and peas, tofu, and certain fruits and dark leafy green vegetables. Some foods — such as prunes, tomatoes, and potatoes — are also good sources of both iron and vitamin C which may help with iron absorption.