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Why Your Body Needs Iron And Where To Get It

Iron, the mighty body helper

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Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia; when we don’t have enough iron, our body’s can’t make the hemoglobin needed to take oxygen to their tissues. Though the numbers aren’t staggering, a fair amount of people suffer from iron-deficiency anemia; roughly 3% of men and 20% of women; her odds rise to 50% if she happens to be with child.

If you’ve been feeling tired, weak, and irritable lately you might have iron-deficiency anemia, yourself. Luckily, it can be resolved most of the time by simply upping your iron intake a little.

How We Use The Iron We Get From Food

We absorb most of our food sourced iron in the upper part of our small intestine; there are two types – heme and nonheme. Heme iron is acquired from hemoglobin; we get it from animal foods (poultry, fish, red meat, etc.) that contained hemoglobin. These foods contain nonheme iron as well, but most people draw almost all of their iron from heme sources.

If you don’t eat meat and/or you’d like to make certain that you’re getting enough just in case, there are a couple of things you can do.

Up Your Iron Intake

There are certain foods and drinks that – when consumed with the foods listed below – can help your body draw iron better. Others can deter it from absorbing it. If you’re eating an iron-rich meal and you want to make sure that you’re getting the most out of it, steer clear of things such as calcium-rich food/drinks, tea, and coffee. Conversely, reach for some nonheme iron-rich foods (below) and/or something that contains a decent amount of vitamin C – think things like orange juice, strawberries, broccoli, etc.

Heme Iron-Rich Foods

3.5mg or more/serving (3 ounces)

  • Liver (beef; chicken)
  • Clams
  • Oysters
  • Mussels
  • Mollusks

2.1mg or more/serving (3 ounces)

  • Canned sardines (in oil)
  • Cooked beef

0.7mg or more/serving (3 ounces)

  • Ham
  • Veal
  • Tuna
  • Chicken
  • Salmon
  • Turkey
  • Perch
  • Haddock

Nonheme Iron-Rich Foods

Though our bodies aren’t as capable of drawing nonheme iron as they are heme iron, this is the type that you’ll find in iron-fortified/iron-enriched foods.

3.5mg or more/serving

  • Iron-enriched cereals
  • Cooked beans (1 cup)
  • Tofu (1/2 cup)
  • Seeds; pumpkin, squash, or sesame (1 ounce)

2.1mg or more/serving

  • Lima beans; red kidney beans; chickpeas, canned (1/2 cup)
  • Dried apricots (1 cup)
  • Baked potato (1, medium)
  • Iron-enriched egg noodles (1 cup, cooked)
  • Wheat Germ (1/4 cup)

0.7mg or more/serving

  • Split peas (1/2c, cooked)
  • seeds; sunflower, and nuts; pistachios, walnuts, pecans, peanuts, roasted almonds/cashews (1 ounce)
  • Raw spinach (1 cup)
  • Dried seedless raisins; prunes; peaches (1/2 cup)
  • Broccoli Stalk (1, medium)
  • Brown/Iron-enriched Rice (1 cup)
  • Pasta (1 cup)
  • Bran muffin (1)
  • Pumpernickel; iron-enriched bread (1 slice)


If you’re unable to get enough iron from food or you’re severely deficient, the good news is that you can get iron supplements at just about any health, grocery, or big box store out there. Before you just head out and grab a bottle at random, it’s important to make an appointment with your healthcare provider first to make sure that you are indeed deficient  – We don’t excrete much iron. It’s highly unlikely that one will develop iron toxicity from food and drink, but the possibility of a fatal overdose with supplementation happening is very real.

Do you try to make sure that you’re eating enough iron-rich foods? What are your favorites? Anything we missed? Leave a comment.

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