11 Foods to Help Prevent Iron Deficiency

Bring on the beans

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of nutritional deficiency in the world. Iron deficiency can cause anemia and cognitive (learning) delays in children. The anemia can range from mild to severe, sometimes requiring blood transfusion. For most people, the key to preventing iron deficiency is ensuring an adequate amount of iron in the diet.

Iron comes in two forms: heme iron (from meat) and non-heme iron. Heme iron is better absorbed than non-heme iron which results in the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for iron to be almost 2 times higher in vegetarians.  Despite this vegetarians who eat a varied diet are not at higher risk of developing iron deficiency anemia. After puberty women have a higher RDA due to menstrual blood loss. 

We will review several iron rich foods. Liver is not included in this list. Although it is an excellent source of iron, it is also high in cholesterol. Some of these you may already know contain iron, but some might surprise you.

1
Meat

Chicken and potatoes in skillet
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We are talking more than just beef. Chicken, lamb, pork, and turkey also are good sources of iron. Meat contains heme iron, which is easier for the body to absorb, meaning you get more of the iron from these foods. Lean sources of beef are recommended.

Not a meat eater? No worries, there are additional choices.

2
Shellfish

Oysters
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Shrimp, clams, and oysters contain the same heme iron as meats, meaning it is easily absorbed.

Strictly vegetarian? No worries, more choices are coming. There are plenty of choices for vegetarians and vegans.

3
Tofu

Tofu, edamame, and white rice
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Tofu is a great source of protein with a good amount of iron. Avoid tofu with added calcium as this can decrease the absorption of iron.

4
Beans

Dried Beans
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In addition to being a great source of protein, beans (including pinto beans, black beans, lentils, and kidney beans) are also a good source of iron.

5
Broccoli and Bok Choy

Bok Choy
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Broccoli and bok choy rea super vegetables when it comes to iron. In addition to being a good source of iron, they contain vitamin C, which helps your body absorb iron from your diet. 

6
Vegetables

Black eyed Peas, Collard Greens, & Cornbread
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Multiple vegetables are good sources of iron, including green, leafy vegetables; green beans; and tomatoes. Tomato juice is one of the few juices containing iron. 

7
Dried Fruits

Stack of dried fruit
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Yes, dried apricots, peaches, prunes, and raisins have iron in them. They make a delicious snack as well. Similar to tomato juice, prune juice will allow you to drink your iron.

8
Nuts

Raisins and Nuts
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Most nuts, including cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, and almonds contain iron. So, eat a handful as a nutritious snack. Maybe mix in a few dried fruits for a little more iron.

9
Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin Seeds
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Raw pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, are a great plant source of iron. If you are going to roast them, avoid excessive heat because that can decrease the amount of iron in them. Consider using them as a salad topping.

10
Breads and Cereals

Bran cereal with raisins and orange juice
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In the United States and other countries, flours are fortified with vitamins and minerals including iron. You can identify these products by seeing enriched flour on the ingredient list. This would include foods such as bread, cereal, pasta, and other grains. In general, cereals with bran in them have more iron than others cereals.

11
Fruits

Melon salad with feta, tomato and red radish
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Although they technically do not contain iron, fruits rich with vitamin C (oranges, lemons, limes, watermelon, kiwi) help you absorb iron from your diet better. So, include them with your iron-rich foods for a better result.

Source:
National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/ Accessed 08/18/2015 

Prevention Is Key

Hopefully with these recommendations you will be successful at preventing iron deficiency. It is important to note that dairy products are not on this list. Dairy products contain calcium which blocks the absorption of iron from other foods eaten at the same time. Ingestion of large quantities of milk (more than 3 cups or 24 ounces daily) can prevent adequate absorption of iron from the diet. Also, drinks that contain tannins like coffee and tea can block the absorption of iron. If your iron deficiency is severe enough to cause anemia, changing your diet alone will not fully correct the iron deficiency. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare provider. Source Iron: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements website. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional. February 11, 2016. Accessed March 14, 2017.

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