a woman using a blender

The Essential Mineral: Unpacking Iron’s Vital Role in Health

Iron is a crucial mineral that plays an essential role in producing red blood cells and carrying oxygen throughout the body. It exists in two forms in foods: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is primarily found in animal products and is more easily absorbed by our body. In contrast, non-heme iron is found in plant-based foods and isn’t as easily absorbed, but combining it with vitamin C-rich foods can enhance its absorption.

Here’s a list of foods high in iron:

Heme Iron Sources (Animal-Based):

Primarily found in animal products, heme iron boasts superior absorption rates in the body:

  1. Liver (3.5 oz serving: 6.2 mg): Particularly beef liver, it’s one of the most iron-rich foods out there.
  2. Red Meat (3.5 oz serving of beef: 2.7 mg): Such as beef and lamb.
  3. Poultry (3.5 oz serving of chicken thigh: 1.1 mg): Especially darker cuts like thighs.
  4. Fish (3.5 oz serving of cooked clams: 23.8 mg): Such as sardines, mackerel, and clams.
  5. Eggs (1 large egg: 0.6 mg): Yolks are the primary iron source here.

Non-Heme Iron Sources (Plant-Based):

While not as readily absorbed as its heme counterpart, non-heme iron can be better absorbed when paired with vitamin C-rich foods:

  1. Lentils (1 cup, cooked: 6.6 mg): A nutritious vegetarian staple.
  2. Beans (1 cup of cooked kidney beans: 5.2 mg): Like kidney and black beans.
  3. Tofu (1/2 cup: 3.4 mg): Rich in protein and iron.
  4. Spinach (1 cup, cooked: 6.4 mg): A leafy green powerhouse.

Tips for Maximizing Iron Absorption:

  • Pair with Vitamin C: Enhance the absorption of non-heme iron by consuming it with foods rich in vitamin C. Think bell peppers, strawberries, oranges, and tomatoes.
  • Avoid Tannins with Iron: Try not to drink tea or coffee with iron-rich meals, as the tannins can hinder absorption.
  • Cook in Cast Iron: This can increase the amount of iron in your food, especially when cooking acidic foods like tomato sauce.

Further Reading:

Remember, while it’s important to ensure you’re getting enough iron, it’s equally vital not to consume too much, as excessive iron can lead to health issues. Always consider speaking with a nutritionist or healthcare provider about your specific iron needs.


  1. World Health Organization (WHO). (2001). Iron Deficiency Anemia: Assessment, Prevention, and Control. Geneva: WHO.
  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. (2021). Dietary Iron and Iron Supplements.
  3. Hallberg L, Brune M, Rossander L. (1989). Effect of ascorbic acid on iron absorption from different types of meals. Studies with ascorbic-acid-rich foods and synthetic ascorbic acid given in different amounts with different meals. Human Nutrition. Applied Nutrition, 43(2), 97-104.
  4. Hurrell R, Reddy M, Cook J. (1999). Inhibition of non-haem iron absorption in man by polyphenolic-containing beverages. British Journal of Nutrition, 81(4), 289-295.
  5. Beard JL. (2001). Iron biology in immune function, muscle metabolism, and neuronal functioning. The Journal of Nutrition, 131(2), 568S-579S.