Iron-rich foods: what are they and how much iron do they contain?

For a diet to be considered healthy, in addition to not containing many industrialized products , it must be diversified.

This, considering that each fruit, vegetable or legume has specific nutrients and are necessary for the maintenance of essential metabolic activities in the body.

So, when there is no food rich in these substances in the diet, a deficiency occurs, which consequently generates changes in the body. This is what happens, for example, when it comes to iron . Find out more:


What is iron and what is it for?

Iron is an essential mineral for the health of the body, considering that it is present in all types of cells, acting in different metabolic activities of the body and helping in the prevention of various diseases (such as anemia ).

We can mention the composition of hemoglobin (a molecule that integrates red blood cells) as one of the main actions of this nutrient. This molecule is responsible for transporting filtered oxygen from the lungs to the other regions of the body.

In addition, iron also participates in DNA synthesis, helps in maintaining energy metabolism and in strengthening the immune and cognitive systems. Thus, being one of the most important nutrients.

Normally, the proper amount of iron in the body varies according to sex and lifestyle. An example is the fact that people who practice intense physical activities need to increase their iron intake, because the levels decrease due to the execution of the exercises and, even without this nutrient, the performance in the activities is impaired.

Just as women need a greater intake of the nutrient, due to the loss of blood through menstruation, which reduces the level of iron in the body.

What is the ideal consumption of iron?

According to the Reference Dietary Intake (RDA), the correct amount of iron for adult men is 16 mg to 18 mg per day, while for women (not menstruating, menopausal or pregnant) it is 12 mg to 15 mg per day. day 

In order to obtain iron, it is necessary to consume foods that, in addition to being sources of this substance, are well absorbed by the intestine. Because of this, the iron present in food is divided into two categories:

  • Heme iron: found in animal foods, such as meat, fish and eggs (with an absorption rate between 10% and 20%).
  • Non-heme iron: present in products of plant origin such as fruits and vegetables (with an absorption rate of around 2%).

It is worth remembering that regardless of the classification, it is important to have a diversified diet that meets the needs of iron in the body.

Iron and folic acid: what are the benefits of this combination?

Both iron and folic acid (vitamin B9) are important micronutrients for the proper functioning of metabolic activities and for the prevention of diseases such as iron deficiency anemia (iron deficiency) and megaloblastic anemia (large and immature red blood cells).

Another situation in which they are fundamental is during pregnancy, when these components become essential to avoid complications to the mother’s health and the baby’s development.

Therefore, in addition to taking care of food, it is common for the obstetrician to prescribe the supplementation of these nutrients during the prenatal period. In this sense, some of the options that can be indicated are:

  • Folifer iron and folic acid ;
  • Physiogen iron ;
  • Hemolip ferro;
  • Folic Acid Stem ;
  • Folic Acid Litee .

Remember that nutritional supplementation should only occur by medical advice (especially during pregnancy), since the excess of nutrients in the body ends up deregulating metabolic activities and causing health complications.

And, in any case, it is worth mentioning that having a balanced eating routine that contains foods rich in iron and folic acid is still an excellent option to avoid disturbances in blood cells and ensure the proper functioning of the body.

Table: which are the 10 foods richest in iron?

Most iron-rich foods are of animal origin – such as seafood, eggs and red meat.

The 10 richest foods in iron are those of animal origin (heme iron), since they are better absorbed by the intestinal mucosa. Are they:

FoodIron (in 100g)
Chicken liver8,5mg
Turkey liver7.8mg
Cow liver5.8mg
Egg yolk5,5mg
Fresh tuna2,3mg
Chicken egg (whole)2,1mg

Despite this, plant-based foods are also good ways to access the nutrient. What really differentiates the two types is absorption, with the group of animal origin up to 2 times higher than the group of plant origin in this respect.

Therefore, those who need a greater absorption of the nutrient (such as pregnant women and athletes) usually opt for items of animal origin. But those who have more basic nutrient needs can have a diverse diet with both groups.

Foods of plant origin rich in iron

Those who prefer to obtain iron by consuming foods of plant origin should include citrus fruits such as orange, lemon and strawberry (rich in vitamin C) in the diet, as they help in the process of absorption of the nutrient by the intestine.

Here are some foods that belong to this group and are considered good sources of iron:

FoodIron (in 100g)
Pumpkin Seeds14,9mg
Cocoa powder5.8mg
Dried apricot5.8mg
Sunflower seeds5,1mg
Pass grape4.8mg
Dry coconut3.6mg

What iron-rich foods should pregnant women eat?

In general, pregnant women can normally eat any type of food that contains iron (vegetables, legumes, grains, meat and eggs), with the exception of those who have any medical restrictions or food intolerance.

It is necessary to emphasize that iron is an even more important substance when it comes to pregnancy, since its deficiency can have serious consequences both for the woman’s health and for the baby’s development, such as:

  • Excessive tiredness, dizziness and shortness of breath;
  • Increased chances of having viral and bacterial infections;
  • Weakening of hair and nails;
  • Premature baby birth (may have growth disorders);
  • Baby with difficulty sleeping and eating properly;
  • Child with sociability and learning problems.

Normally, to avoid these complications, it is recommended that the pregnant woman maintain the care indicated by the obstetrician and consume through food or supplementation (according to professional guidance) 30mg of iron per day throughout the pregnancy.

It is also indicated to maintain this amount 3 months after delivery to ensure the recovery and stabilization of the woman’s immune system.

However, each organism is unique and, therefore, the amount of iron established varies according to the clinical status of each pregnant woman. Thus, it is always necessary to follow medical guidelines in relation to the increase or reduction in iron intake before and after childbirth.

Iron and anemia: what is good to eat?

An anemic cell contains little red blood cells, which is due to a lack of iron in the body. Considering that it is one of the most important elements for the composition of hemoglobin (molecule that integrates these globules).

People who have a condition of iron deficiency anemia should give priority to the consumption of foods rich in iron, vitamins (especially C and B complex that help in the absorption of iron) and proteins . In addition, they should avoid foods that inhibit the absorption of this nutrient, such as sweets, coffee, chocolate, milk and dairy products.

It is worth mentioning that there are several types of anemia, but the type of iron deficiency is the one that affects the production of red blood cells, since the amount of iron in the body is not enough to maintain this function.

Therefore, those who are treating this disorder need to follow a diet rich in foods, both of animal origin (meat, fish and eggs) and of vegetable origin (fruits, vegetables and legumes), which help in raising the level of this substance in the body.

In this sense, an example of a menu (1 day) is as follows:

  • Breakfast : Omelette and green cabbage, orange and apple juice;
  • Lunch: 1 chicken liver steak, white rice, cooked black beans, cabbage salad with pumpkin seed and orange juice with pineapple;
  • Afternoon snack: 50g of dried apricot and 50g of peanut;
  • Dinner: 1 grilled tuna steak, white rice, cooked lentils, spinach salad and red fruit juice (strawberry, cherry and watermelon).

If the patient is unable to reverse the condition of iron deficiency through food, supplementation with micronutrient tablets may be necessary, in addition to medications that improve the common symptoms of anemia (such as excessive tiredness , dizziness , pallor and poor appetite) ).

Regardless of the treatment, it is necessary to consult specialists (hematologist and nutritionist) so that they can assess the condition and make the appropriate guidelines, both in relation to the diet and the medications to be used.

What iron-rich foods can you give your baby?

The foods rich in iron that can be given to the baby are those that the child’s taste best adapts and that are better absorbed by his body.

In general, after 6 months of age, babies stop feeding through breast milk (or exclusively) and start consuming more solid foods.

This process means a new phase for the child, who will have to get used to different flavors. So it is important to give your baby foods rich in iron in small portions and that do not have a strong smell or taste, so that he does not reject the food.

Therefore, some foods that can be provided to the baby are:

Food Iron (in 100g)
Sweet potato puree1,38mg
Cooked red lentils2.44mg
Boiled and diced chicken2mg
Pieces of yellow peach2.13mg
Red bean broth7,1mg
Boiled egg yolk4,85mg

Emphasizing that the child’s need for iron changes according to age, therefore, babies up to 6 months need only approximately 0.27 mg of iron per day, since from 6 to 12 months it is necessary, in the minimum 11 mg of iron daily.

However, so that there is no doubt about the appropriate amount at each stage, it is prudent to consult a pediatrician regularly.

Which iron-rich foods are good to eat while breastfeeding?

The iron-rich foods indicated for women who are breastfeeding are those that contain a large amount of the substance and are better absorbed by the body, such as meats such as beef liver , turkey and chicken , as well as eggs and fish .

During this period, especially after childbirth (where there is blood loss), the woman usually has to supply a greater nutritional deficiency in relation to iron.

In addition, the absence of this nutrient in the body can trigger anemia and, consequently, cause symptoms that impair milk production and the mother’s disposition such as tiredness, infections, shortness of breath, accelerated heartbeat, among others.

Thus, if possible, it is good that the woman has the support of a nutritionist to help her set up a food routine that provides the essential nutrients for this period.

Being attentive to the nutritional needs of the body is very important to always be willing to perform all daily activities. Therefore, taking care of food is essential.

So, if you like articles like this and want to know more information on how to have a balanced diet , keep following the Healthy Minute!