Monday 22 April 2024

25 Foods That Offer Even More Iron Than Beef

You may pump iron in the gym, but the kind you get through food is even more important for your health. The mineral transports oxygen throughout your body, helps form red blood cells, and supports your metabolism. “Too little iron in your diet and you may be feeling cold, tired, and sluggish,” says Melissa Prest, D.C.N., R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Ideally, women should aim for 18 milligrams (mg) per day, while men only need 8 mg, says Prest. The best way to get enough is through diet—and yes, it’s true that red meat is an excellent source. Just one 3-ounce serving of lean ground beef packs 2.2 mg of it, per the United States Department of Agriculture(USDA). 

But what if you want to steer clear of steak? While research shows that red meat provides important nutrients (including iron, muscle-building amino acids, vitamin B12, and zinc), it might also increase your risk of several chronic diseases, including heart disease and even certain types of cancer. Meanwhile, studies show that plant-based diets may do the opposite and lower your risk of health problems down the road.

Luckily, you can find iron beyond a Quarter Pounder with cheese—but you’ll need to eat more of the mineral if you’re completely vegan or vegetarian. That’s because there are two types of iron: heme and nonheme. Meat, seafood, and poultry contain both forms, while plant-based or fortified foods contain only nonheme. This can be an issue if you’re strictly plant-based, since your body has an easier time absorbing the iron in animal products, according to the National Institutes of Health. (Quick tip: Pairing plant-based sources of iron with vitamin C-rich foods can boost absorption.)

The fix: “Vegetarians and vegans should consume around 1.8 times the recommended daily value,” says Sharon Palmer, R.D.N., author of The Plant-Powered Diet. For women ages 19 to 50, that works out to about 32 mg of iron per day. The 25 delicious foods on this list, which pack more iron than a serving of beef, can help you hit your daily mark.


Popeye knew what he was doing: A half-cup of cooked spinach offers 3 mg of the mineral at only 21 calories, per the USDA. Plus, spinach is a nutritional powerhouse: It provides a bit of protein and fiber and a healthy dose of calcium, potassium, folate, as well as vitamins A, C, and K. Enjoy some in a salad, smoothie, or omelet. 

White beans

There’s a reason beans are a go-to for plant-based eaters. One half-cup of white beans offers nearly 3.5 mg of iron, the USDA says, along with 8.7 grams (g) of protein and 5.6 g of fiber. Next time you grab a can, think beyond a traditional veggie stew or chili: Cook them into a mushroom risotto, sauté them with cherry tomatoes, or serve ‘em with seared scallops if you enjoy seafood. 

Iron-fortified cereal

Prest says just 3/4 cup of 100% iron-fortified, ready-to-eat cereal has a whopping 18 mg of iron, which meets most women’s recommended daily value. If you’re always on the go, this is a quick and easy way to meet your body’s needs. 

Swiss chard

If spinach isn’t your thing, opt for other leafy greens in your salads, stir-fries, and smoothies. One cup of cooked Swiss chard will get you 4 mg of iron, per the USDA, along with some protein, fiber, calcium, and vitamins A and C. Swiss chard is also an amazing source of heart-friendly potassium, offering 961 mg per cooked cup 

Red kidney beans

One cup of red kidney beans packs 5 mg of iron, 13 grams of gut-filling fiber, and 15 g of plant protein, per the USDA. If weight control is a goal, eating one half-cup serving of beans, chickpeas, or lentils daily can also help you lose weight and keep it off due to how filling they are, according to a reviewpublished in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition


According to the USDA, 100 g of the instant breakfast staple will get you nearly 2.2 mg of iron (even if it isn’t fortified). Your ticker will thank you for this meal, too. Since oats are full of fiber, they help lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, according to the American Heart Association

White rice

Just 1/3 cup of white rice has 3 mg of iron, says Prest. Serve it with another food on this list, such as beans or chickpeas, and you’ll be close to fulfilling your daily requirement with just one meal. 


Lentils will load your plate with a whopping 3.3 mg of iron and roughly 8 g of protein per cooked half-cup, per the USDA—meaning a simple, delicious Italian lentil and broccoli stew is a no-brainer for your next dinner. What’s more, lentils are rich in polyphenols compared to other legumes, a group of antioxidants that reduces your risk of chronic diseases, according to a 2017 review of research. 


Quinoa can be a bit of a show-off. It's a complete vegetarian protein, for one, packing 8 grams—meaning, it has all nine essential amino acids that your body can’t make on its own (they're typically found only in animal products). It also offers nearly 3 mg of iron in one cup, alongside phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium. With its unique texture and nutty taste, quinoa is a great way to switch up your grains. 


Pretty much any type of enriched bagel you pick up at the bakery—onion, sesame, poppy seed, or raisin—will provide a good dose of iron, says Angel Planells, M.S., R.D.N., Seattle-based spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. According to the USDA, a medium one (toppings excluded) has 3.75 mg of iron. 


Seafood can be an excellent substitute for red meat, and oysters are particularly rich in iron. Slurp down four large mollusks of the mushroom variety and you’ll get 7.8 mg, per the USDA. You’ll also take in almost 5 mg of hard-to-get zinc, an essential mineral for your immune health. 


Planells suggests sprinkling some peas onto your plate for some extra iron. Believe it or not, a cup of the veggies cooked with salt has about 2.5 mg. They’re also rich in calcium and magnesium, which is great for bone health. 


According to Prest, a half cup of instant grits delivers 7.1 mg of iron. Like cereal and oats, it’s an out-the-door breakfast that will fill your stomach and your iron tank. 


Looking for a high-protein snack? Edamame delivers 18 g of the muscle-building nutrient in two half-cup servings, per the USDA. As an added bonus, you’ll get 3.5 mg of iron, along with loads of potassium, some fiber, and vitamins C and A. 

Dark chocolate

Yes, you can enjoy dessert and load up on iron—the USDA says that a typical 1-ounce serving size of dark chocolate packs roughly 3.4 mg of the mineral. A bar that is 70 to 85% cocoa, like this Green & Black’s Organic 85% Dark Chocolate, only contains 8 g of sugar per 12-piece serving. 

Bran muffin

Contrary to what diet culture might have you believe, you can enjoy a muffin (and carbs!) as a proper source of nutrition, especially iron, Planells says. One medium oat bran muffin provides 4.75 mg of the mineral, plus gut-boosting fiber, per the USDA

Pumpkin seeds

You don’t have to wait until October to roast up some pumpkin seeds, especially since just one cup contains nearly 3.7 mg of iron. They’re also surprisingly high in protein, healthy fats, magnesium, and potassium.  

Dried apricot

A cup of dried apricots boasts 3.5 mg, per the USDA, which is why Planells recommends adding the healthy sweet snack to your rotation. 


Though tofu is not the highest in iron, it’s still a viable source for those who eat plant-based. According to the USDA, 6 ounces yields almost 3 mg of it, along with over 18 g of protein. The best part is that it's extremely versatile—cook it up in curries, breakfast scrambles, stir-fries, and more. 

Baked potato

Your favorite side dish is healthier than you might think (as long as you don’t go too crazy with the sour cream and butter). One large baked potato with the skin has just over 3 mg of iron, per the USDA. You’ll get about one third of your daily vitamin C, too. White potatoes are also full of gut-friendly resistant starch, which keeps you feeling full and aids in digestion. 


Spotting a trend here? Legumes are packed with iron and cooked chickpeas with salt are no exception—you get 5 mg in two half-cup servings, as well as an impressive 12.5 g of fiber, the USDA says. They make an amazing snack when they’re roasted, a satisfying lunch when tossed in a salad, and a surprising dessert ingredient when you want a healthy way to get your sweet fix. 


A cup of raisins, whether munched throughout the day, mixed into oatmeal, or atop peanut butter-filled celery logs, will easily get you 3.7 mg of iron. 


Most people know that nuts are a great high-protein snack, but they don’t get enough credit for their iron-boosting abilities. Two ounces of raw cashews have almost 3.8 mg of the mineral, per the USDA. If cashews aren’t your favorite, Planells recommends trying brazil nuts or walnuts, which have similar benefits. 

Sweet potato

A cup of boiled sweet potato without the skin boasts 2.4 mg of iron, so don’t limit it to Thanksgiving dinner. The root veggie also contains 42 mg of vitamin C for enhanced iron absorption. 

Enriched pasta

Another reason to love pasta night: 1 cup of enriched elbow noodles contains 3.3 mg of iron. Serve it up with a fiber-rich tomato paste-based sauce, and your mind and body will go to bed happy.

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