What are Some Good Sources of Iron?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

There are a number of sources of iron that can be used to supplement the diet, ensuring that individuals get enough of this important mineral. Women need around 18 milligrams of iron every day, while men and post-menopausal women need 8 milligrams. Some agencies recommend that vegetarians consume more than this, but consumption should never exceed 45 milligrams per day. Animal sources include liver and red meat, while vegetables like kidney beans and spinach can also supply this mineral.

Dried fruit can be a good source of iron.
Dried fruit can be a good source of iron.

Two types of iron can be found in food. Foods from animal sources contain heme iron, a type that is easy for the body to absorb. Vegetarian sources have non-heme iron, a form that cannot be absorbed as easily. For this reason, vegetarians may need to eat more iron to ensure that they absorb enough. Iron absorption can be increased by consuming sources of iron with vitamin C.

Wheat is a good source of non-heme iron.
Wheat is a good source of non-heme iron.

Red meat, especially liver, is one of the best sources of iron. A single serving of liver contains around 7 milligrams of iron, with red meat in general containing between 2 and 4 milligrams per serving. White meats contain some iron, typically 0.5 to 3 milligrams a serving, and eggs are contain iron.

Red meat is a good source of iron.
Red meat is a good source of iron.

Non-heme sources include kidney beans, with 3 milligrams a serving, along with soy beans, dark leafy greens like spinach, dried fruit, lentils, and grains such as wheat and oats. As a general rule, non-heme sources of iron contain 0.5 to 2 milligrams a serving. It is also possible to eat various foods, such as cereals, that have been fortified with iron, and to take iron supplements. Iron supplements should be taken with food to increase absorption, and people should be aware that the body can only absorb so much at once, so it's better to space supplements out over the course of the day, rather than to take them all at once.

Kidney beans.
Kidney beans.

Lack of iron leads to anemia, a common nutritional deficiency that can have serious consequences. People with anemia may feel faint or tired, and they often experience dulled skin and hair, headaches, rapid heartbeats, dizziness, shortness of breath, and abdominal pain. Some people may develop pica, a condition characterized by a tendency to eat things that are dangerous or inappropriate, such as dirt. Pica appears to develop in response to nutritional deficiencies, with the body seeking out the most likely sources of the nutrients it needs.

Whole oats.  Oats are a good source of iron.
Whole oats. Oats are a good source of iron.
Lentils contain iron.
Lentils contain iron.
Iron supplements should be taken with food to increase consumption.
Iron supplements should be taken with food to increase consumption.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


What are some of the best sources of iron for kids? My kids are really picky eaters, and there are many times I wonder if they are getting all the nutrition they need.

As I read through the list of foods that contain iron, there were very few of them that they would eat. Do most of the vitamins made for children have a good supply of iron in them?


When I was younger I had to take an iron supplement because I was anemic. This is really a strange feeling. I was tired all the time, had no energy, and had headaches all the time.

It is never fun to feel like that, but when you are young it is especially troubling. We finally figured out that I was anemic. Once I began taking an iron supplement, I couldn't believe how much better I felt.

I am just glad it was something as simple as adding more iron to my diet, and not something more serious than that.


If I had to depend on eating liver and kidney beans to get the iron I needed, I would be in trouble. I make sure to get 100% of the iron I need every day in a multi-vitamin.

Since I am over 50, I take a multi-vitamin that doesn't have as much iron as a supplement for someone who is under 50.

Whenever I have had blood work done, it always shows that I am getting enough iron, so I figure whatever I am doing is working.


@Pharoah - That's really scary! Fatigue and joint pain are symptoms of a lot of different things. In fact, I think fatigue is also a sign of iron deficiency! It's lucky your friend followed up with her doctor and was able to find out what was really going on.


I think, as with most nutrients, you have to be careful of how much iron you're eating. It's bad to get too little, but it's also harmful to take too much iron!

A good friend of mine was diagnosed with an iron deficiency, so she went way overboard taking supplements and eating foods high in iron. She ended up getting too much iron, so she was really fatigued and started getting joint pain. Luckily her doctor figure out what was going on before things progressed any further, and she's fine now.


@betterment - Good ideas. I like to "sneak" healthy foods into my diet too. Sometimes I put some spinach and cheese in my scrambled eggs in the morning. This tastes way better than just eating spinach alone, but I'm still getting the benefits. Also, eggs are one of the sources of iron rich foods too!


@pinkandred - It's great that you learned to like beans. I think they're one of the easiest food sources with iron in them because you can put them in so many different things. My favorite recipe with beans is chicken tortilla soup. I make it with both black and red beans. It's delicious, filling, and not too expensive to make.

I like spinach salad a lot too. I've found that I like it even better if I mix it half and half with some other kind of salad mix, like a spring salad mix. That way I still get some spinach in, but that's not the only kind of green that's part of the salad.


Some people despise dark meat, but dark chicken and turkey meat are high sources of iron. I actually love chowing down on a big turkey leg, and it's good to know that I'm getting plenty of iron while doing this.

To me, dark chicken meat has more flavor than white meat. I intentionally seek out the pieces containing dark meat, and my family doesn't mind one bit, because they prefer the white.


I'm not a vegetarian, but I do enjoy eating vegetables as food sources of iron. I especially like kidney beans, and I mix them with soup and noodles to make them even tastier.

I buy those little noodles in prepackaged servings that you only have to boil for three minutes. They come with seasoning packets, and this makes an excellent soup.

I use the beef seasoning when I make the noodles with kidney beans. I buy canned kidney beans so that I can boil them in with the noodles for just a few minutes.


@orangey03 – It's great that we can find sources of iron in food. I was borderline anemic for many months, and I finally discovered that my low-iron diet was to blame.

I had been feeling fatigued all the time. I sometimes got dizzy, and it seemed like I could not catch my breath even after very little exertion.

I started eating spinach salad. All I put on it was Italian dressing, and this little bit of fat helped me absorb the iron more easily. I ate a spinach salad for lunch every day, and before long, I began to feel normal again.


I became anemic as a child. My doctor gave me some horrid tasting liquid supplement to take every day, and it made me want to vomit.

My mother told me that if I agreed to eating natural sources of iron, then I wouldn't have to take the supplement anymore. I told her that as long as I didn't have to eat liver, I would give it a try.

I didn't mind eating steak and burgers at all. I also liked scrambled eggs and boiled eggs. My mother even got sneaky and blended up some spinach into my fruit smoothies.


I wonder if you get more iron from oats depending on how you cook them? I know you get more nutrients from a potato if you leave the skin on and just bake it compared to taking the skin off and boiling it. Would making a trail mix with oats and baking it for a short time leave more iron than fixing them with boiling water?


My doctor told me that beans are one of the best foods with iron. I really do not like beans, but after I found out I was iron deficient, I learned to like them.

Not only can you put them in soups, but can mash them up and use them as a meat substitute. Refried beans are also good, and can be put in more than Mexican dishes.

I also did not like spinach, but now put it in salads. I find it easier to eat fresh than cooked. I also like to put fresh spinach leaves and cheese with veggies in a whole wheat tortilla and roll it up.

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