9 Sources of Iron for Iron deficiency


Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies worldwide. It can be a particular problem for premenopausal women as during those years iron loses are high due to menstruation. This means that while men and post-menopausal have a daily requirement of 8mg of iron, women up to around age 50 need 18mg. That can be really tough to get into the day, particularly for women who don’t eat red meat.

Iron is part of haemoglobin in red blood cells and is involved in transporting oxygen from the lungs to cells all around the body. If you are lacking in iron this process cannot happen effectively. This affects your ability to exercise, your ability to regulate body temperature and so you may feel cold, depresses your immune function so you may pick up more infections, and you’re likely to feel tired and irritated. Clearly feeling like this will also therefore hinder your ability to follow your Get Lean lifestyle.

Red meat is a terrific source of iron, but it’s not the only food that gives you iron. So let’s take a look at 9 food sources of iron so that you can ensure you are eating the right foods to help you meet demands.

1. Red meat

Let’s start with red meat so that you can also compare the alternatives and get perspective on what is a good level. 100g raw weight of lean beef or lamb will give you 2.1mg of iron. The same weight of pork fillet has less than half this amount with 0.86mg. But how about kangaroo? It’s super lean and has an impressive 3.4mg. Or you could try venison with 3.1mg or goat with 2.8mg. All of these game meats are fantastic from both nutritional and environmental perspectives and are amongst the richest food sources of iron.

2. Shellfish

Oysters are famous for their fabulous zinc content, but did you know they are also an excellent source of iron? 100g of raw oysters delivers 3.9mg of iron. If you’re not an oyster fan then mussels are a worthy alternative with a similar level of iron. Clams meantime are off the charts with 14mg of iron per 100g. Pipis and vongole are both varieties of clams and great choices for iron.

3. Poultry Leg

While we were in the low fat era everyone opted for the breast of chicken and turkey because it’s lower in fat than the leg or thigh. But I encourage you to see things from a broader nutritional perspective and recognise that we should be eating all sorts of cuts from an animal (if you choose to eat them of course). The leg of both turkey and chicken is a far richer source of minerals including iron. Consider that the turkey leg contains 1.2mg/100g while the breast has only 0.4mg/100g. Chicken thigh for comparison has 0.7mg.

4. Tofu

So what about iron in plant foods? Tofu is one of the best sources with 2.9mg/100g and that is one reason it is such an excellent food choice for vegetarians and vegans. Do bear in mind that the absorption of iron from plant sources is pretty poor – we are much better at absorbing iron from animal food sources. However if you consume your plants with plenty of vitamin C at the same time you can boost iron absorption. At the same time avoid drinking tea with your meals as the tannins reduce plant iron absorption. Save your tea for a between meal drink.

5. Legumes

Legumes include dried beans and lentil. They are amongst the best plant sources of iron. Comparing 100g cooked weight lentils come out top with 2.4mg, while chickpeas have 1.8mg and cannellini beans 1.6mg. I’m a fan of these foods as they also add fantastic levels of folate, plant protein, low GI carbs and plant protein. I encourage all of you, whether a meat eater or not, to eat legumes at least twice a week.

6. Spinach

Popeye made spinach famous and the link, although never mentioned in the cartoons, probably came from the high level of iron in this leafy green.  100g of fresh spinach has 3.2mg. This does on the surface look good compared to red meat, but unfortunately spinach also contains plant compounds called oxalates. These bind to the iron and prevent much of it from being absorbed. Nevertheless team your spinach with vitamin rich vegies, such as a spinach and orange salad, and you’ll improve matters.

7. Liver

Liver had gone out of fashion but it’s making something of an emergence at the moment. The Paleo movement undoubtedly has played a role in this and this is one area where I do agree. Liver is fantastically rich in many nutrients and is outstanding for iron. 100g of raw lamb liver has 10.33mg, chicken liver 9.8mg and beef liver 5.8mg. If, like me I confess, eating liver doesn’t really appeal, then how about as pate? My mum used to make chicken liver pate regularly and it’s still a favourite of mine. It has 2.8g of iron per 30g serve so provides a real iron boost to your day.

8. Nuts

Nuts are amazing little nutrition bundles and they’re a terrific plant source of iron. Cashews come out tops in this regard with 1.5mg per 30g handful. Almonds, pine nuts and pistachios are not far behind with 1.2mg, then hazelnuts with 1mg, peanuts, Brazil nuts and pecans with 0.7mg, and macadamias with 0.5mg. Use them as snacks, add to salads, sprinkle over yoghurt and cereal, or blend to make nut butters.

The superfood of the last couple of years is worthy of the title. Quinoa really does boost an impressive nutrition profile. 100g of uncooked quinoa contains 4.6mg of iron. That’s a little over half a cup of uncooked quinoa, which is probably two serves, but a decent level of iron nonetheless.

 9. Quinoa

The superfood of the last couple of years is worthy of the title. Quinoa really does boost an impressive nutrition profile. 100g of uncooked quinoa contains 4.6mg of iron. That’s a little over half a cup of uncooked quinoa, which is probably two serves, but a decent level of iron nonetheless.


This article was originally published on Dr. Joanna McMillan’s site.

Dr Joanna McMillan

Joanna has a PhD in Nutritional Science, is one of Australia's best known health experts and founder of Get Lean. She is also the author of several books, has a weekly column in Sunday Life and writes for several magazines and online blogs. She is also a proud ambassador for Diabetes Australia, The Skin & Cancer Foundation, FoodBank NSW/ACT & Muscular Dystrophy.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: How have changing lifestyles impacted our relationship with food? - Balance by Deborah Hutton

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *