Iron is a metal that plays many roles in the body. It is primarily used to make two important proteins: hemoglobin and myoglobin, both of which assist oxygen transport and retention inside muscles. But many people are deficient in iron. The CDC says it’s the most common nutritional deficiency, and the symptoms can be pretty debilitating. From extreme fatigue, headaches, and poor concentration, to always feeling cold and short of breath, no one needs to suffer if they’re eating a well-rounded diet. Below we discuss the best iron rich foods and how to easily integrate them into your diet.
Why Iron is so Important
- Needed for Energy. Without ample iron, your body won’t produce enough oxygen-carrying red blood cells. This makes it hard for your body to transport oxygen to your brain, muscles and cells. The result? Complete exhaustion, weakness, and susceptibility to illness. Iron helps oxygenate cells and helps the body digest proteins and absorb nutrients. Knowing the best iron rich foods helps, because eating them becomes a good, healthy habit.
- The Brain Needs Oxygen. Without enough iron present, the brain suffers in a multitude of ways. From poor memory, irritability, less focus, and even depression, the consequences open up a whole new set of problems on top of the physical ones. Children with iron deficiencies tend to struggle more in school (1).
- Muscles Need Iron. Muscles grow, heal and move, thanks to the oxygen stored within them. Without iron, the myoglobin, cannot hold oxygen. These cells don’t function properly without adequate oxygen, which results in muscle weakness.
The Best Iron Rich Foods You’ll Actually Eat
An algae rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Don’t be alarmed by its rich green color! Many people make delicious smoothies using this super-food powder. There are 2 mg of iron in one tablespoon.
This leafy green needs no major introduction. From salads to pesto, this incredible antioxidant contains 6 mg per cooked cup.
Obviously this one tops our list, because, well… it’s chocolate! Just buy the darkest you can and with the least sugar. Per ounce, this delicious treat contains more iron than steak. A 25 gram square of 75-90% dark chocolate contains 3 mg of iron.
Pepitas taste great in salads, blended with other nuts in nut butter, or just on their own. They also contain zinc and magnesium. You only need one ounce to clock in 4 mg of iron.
Time to break out the Instant Pot! White beans, lentils, kidney and black beans range from about 5 mg to 8 mg per cooked cup. You can cook dried beans in no time flat using a pressure cooker, or, set them up in a slow cooker while you’re at work all day and come home to a yummy bean soup or chili.
Also legumes, but they’re softer and lend themselves to much different cooking techniques than other hard beans. We love green peas in split pea soup!
Like chocolate, you need to watch portion sizes with all fruits, but especially dried ones. Without the water content (like with fresh apples, grapes and apricots) it’s easy to scarf down fried fruit like candy. But in moderation, things like raisins, dried apricots and prunes contain good amounts of iron.
Depending on the type, this favorite snack just got even better now that you know they contain iron. Pistachios, almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts contain solid amounts.
Grass-Fed, Grass-Finished Beef.
Many pregnant women crave burgers while with child. Their bodies intuitively know they need more iron! With about 4 mg per serving (or one steak), it’s a delicious and low-carb way to recharge. We only order our meat from Butcher Box. We are an affiliate for Butcher Box, but only because we use, know and trust them wholeheartedly!
Several Iron Rich Foods you might not Eat
Animal organs, like liver, top the list of less popular iron options. Also making our list of not so desirable foods:
- Cereal (these are fortified, filled with GMOs and ultra-processed)- so no way!
Best Iron Rich Recipes
Smoothie: To a blender, add 2 teaspoons spirulina, 1 large handful of spinach, 1 frozen banana, 3 tablespoons pistachios, 1 cup of almond milk and ice. Blend until smooth. Serves 1.
Chocolate Pudding: To a food processor, add 2 ripe pitted avocados, 1/4 cup dark cacao powder, 1/3 cup Swerve Confectioners Sweetener, 2 oz 85% dark chocolate, 2 tablespoons of cashew butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Blend until smooth. Chill for 2 hours. Serves 4.
Instant Chili: To an Instant Pot, add 2 tablespoons avocado oil, 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped carrot and 2 cloves minced garlic. Set to saute feature and stir for 5 minutes. Turn off and add 1 can crushed tomatoes, 1 cup vegetable broth, 1 can drained and rinsed kidney beans, 1 can drained and rinsed black beans, salt, cumin, chili powder and cayenne (all to taste). Set to 20 minutes manual. Serves 4.
Which of our best iron rich foods do you commit to eating more of? Comment below!