Iron deficiency is the most common form of nutritional deficiency – especially among children and pregnant women – according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Not getting enough can cause anemia and make you more susceptible to illness and infections; it can even cause premature delivery in pregnant women.
The body is able to regulate uptake of iron, so overdose is rare and usually only occurs when people take supplements. Iron from natural food sources, like the ones listed below, are considered safe and healthy. Here are 12 iron rich foods that fight anemia.
1. Dried Thyme
With dried thyme at your disposal, cooking and eating your favorite vegetables will never get old. Thyme offers a unique lemon-pepper flavor that works well in many dishes. It also offers plenty of essential iron. In fact, dried thyme is one of the most iron-rich herbs you can find. And with so few calories, it makes a healthy, savory addition to your meals.
Go ahead and splurge on the seafood appetizer – it comes with a generous side of iron! Bivalve mollusks like clams, mussels, oysters, and squid are loaded with the important nutrient (plus zinc and vitamin B12). One single medium oyster delivers 3 to 5 mg of iron – enjoy a plate of them and you’ve surpassed the daily requiremen.
If oysters, mussels, and clams aren’t on your regular menu, common fin fish, like haddock, salmon, and tuna, are also good sources, although not as high in iron as mollusks.
Organ meats like liver and giblets are some of the best sources of heme iron, with the added bonus of other minerals, vitamins, and protein. Beef liver is incredibly high in iron at 5 mg per slice – over a quarter of an adult woman’s daily requirement. Pork liver is an even smarter option, as it’s slightly leaner and has higher iron and vitamin C levels. But note that liver should be eaten in moderation because it’s high in cholesterol; pregnant women may also want to limit their intake because the high vitamin A levels in liver have been associated with birth defects in at least one study.
If you’re not a fan of liver, other animal proteins like egg yolks (3 milligrams per half cup) and red meat (2 to 3 milligrams per 3 ounces) are also high in iron.
4. Pumpkin Seeds
If you stopped eating pumpkin seeds when you stopped carving pumpkins as a kid, now is the time to start back up again. A handful of pumpkin seeds, or an ounce, contains about one milligram of iron. That’s about 5% of the recommended daily value. Pumpkin seeds provide the most benefit when eaten raw, but they still pack an iron punch when roasted for no more than 15-20 minutes.
These legumes provide your body with almost 5 mg of iron per cup, plus a hearty dose of protein, which makes them a smart option for vegetarians. Chickpeas are a tasty addition to salads and pasta dishes and can be an unexpected way to mix up salsa.
Like other dried fruits, raisins are nutrient-dense treats that contain large amounts of iron. It’s easy to add a handful of these subtly sweet treats to your cereal, yogurt, oatmeal, or salads as part of a balanced diet. To get the most out of your next handful of raisins, combine them with other healthy foods containing vitamin C. This will make it easier for your body to absorb the iron found in raisins.
One half cup of these legumes contains over 4 mg of iron, plus they’re an excellent source of important minerals like copper, which helps keep our blood vessels and immune systems healthy, and manganese, an essential nutrient involved in many chemical processes in the body. In addition, soybeans are high in protein and fiber as well as many vitamins and amino acids.
Dark greens such as arugula have countless health benefits with a tiny calorie count. Vegetarians should consume plenty arugula, particularly for its rich iron content. Adding several servings to your diet each week can greatly improve the health of your red blood cells. The easiest way to enjoy arugula is in a green leafy salad, but you can also enjoy it in soups, as a pizza topping, and sautéed with pasta and other dishes.
9. Dried Apricots
Apricots are an excellent source of iron and other nutrients. They can be consumed raw, canned, cooked, and dried, but dried apricots provide your body with the most benefits and the largest amount of iron. When apricots are dried, they lose their high water and sugar contents without losing their highly nutritious qualities. Just a handful of dried apricots can provide you with up to 35% of your daily iron intake.
10. Black-Eyed Peas
Like other legumes, black-eyed peas are a rich source of iron. A serving size of one single cup can supply up to a quarter of your recommended daily iron intake, while providing you with other health benefits as well. They also contain a respectable amount of vitamin C—enough to make it much easier for your body to absorb the essential iron.
11. Dark Chocolate
By now, most people know that dark chocolate is good for your heart (in moderation). But did you also know that it’s loaded with iron? A 100 gram serving size contains about 35% of your recommended daily intake. Of course, this sweet treat should be eaten in moderation, but it can certainly be enjoyed as part of a balanced, iron-rich diet.
If you need more iron in your diet but can’t afford a jump in calories, kale is a fat-free super food that will provide your body with a mountain of nutrients and only a handful of calories. One of the cruciferous vegetables (in the same grain as broccoli, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts), kale helps fight anemia and fatigue with a high iron content. If you have trouble eating it raw, try sautéing it, throwing it in your soup or on a burger, or making delicious kale chips in your oven or food dehydrator.