11 Foods to Help Prevent Iron Deficiency

Bring on the beans

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of nutritional deficiency. It can cause severe anemia and appears to be related to cognitive delays in children. For many people, the key to preventing iron deficiency is ensuring an adequate amount of iron in the diet. Below are some foods that are rich in iron. Liver is not included in this list. Although it is an excellent source of iron, it is also high in cholesterol.

Iron comes in two forms: heme iron (from meat) and non-heme iron. Heme iron is better absorbed than non-heme iron, but that doesn't necessarily mean people who are vegetarian are at higher risk for iron deficiency anemia.

Some of these you may already know contain iron, but some might surprise you.


Chicken and potatoes in skillet
Melanie Defazio/Stocksy United

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.


Oysters on the Half Shell. dapan photography/Moment/Getty Images

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.


Tofu, edamame, and white rice
Tofu, edamame, and white rice. Beth Galton/Photolibrary/Getty Images

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.


Dried Beans
Dried Beans. James Baigrie/Photolibrary/Getty Images

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.

Broccoli and Potatoes

Baked potato with broccoli, soy yogurt and vegan parmesan cheese
Baked potato with broccoli, soy yogurt and vegan parmesan cheese. Westend61/Westend61/Getty Images

Broccoli and potatoes are 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. 


Black eyed Peas, Collard Greens, & Cornbread
Black eyed Peas, Collard Greens, & Cornbread. Matthew Boyer/Moment/Getty Images

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.

Dried Fruits

Stack of dried fruit
Stack of dried fruit. Food/Photolibrary/Getty Images

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.


Raisins and Nuts
Raisins and Nuts. Kevin Summers/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

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.

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin Seeds. John Carey/Photolibrary/Getty Images

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.

Breads and Cereals

Bran cereal with raisins and orange juice
Bran cereal with raisins and orange juice. Brian Leatart/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Breads and cereals (and other grains) containing enriched flour are fortified with vitamins and minerals, including iron. In general, cereals with bran in them have more iron than others cereals.


Melon salad with feta, tomato and red radish
Melon salad with feta, tomato and red radish. Westend61/Westend61/Getty Images

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.

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 well on your way to preventing iron deficiency. It is important to note that milk products are not on this list. Milk does not contain iron, and it prevents 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. If your iron deficiency is severe enough to cause anemia, changing your diet alone will not fully correct the iron deficiency. Discuss treatment with your healthcare provider.

Continue Reading