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The Best Tips to Maintain Optimal Iron Levels for Health and Vitality. 12 Best Sources From Food.

Simple tips for getting the right amount of iron, and staying healthy.

Iron is like a superhero for our bodies. It keeps us fit and strong and helps our blood move oxygen. We have already discussed all the benefits in the previous article. But too much or too little iron can be bad.

So, how can we be sure we’re having the right iron levels? What can we do to ensure your iron levels stay balanced? This article is all about the best iron intake methods. So, let’s begin!

Maintaining Good Iron Levels

The World Health Organization claims that up to 80% of people worldwide may not have enough iron levels in their bodies.

So, getting good levels of this nutrient is as important as anything else for the body. The best way to treat low levels is to figure out what’s causing them, which could be an imbalance in your diet or some other medical issue. So, the best thing to do beforehand is to get a consultation with a medical professional.

The doctors usually recommend taking a sufficient amount of iron for the body. This dose usually depends on a person’s age and health condition. The following data represents the minimum dose required by each age group.

iron levels

While consultation is the best method, we mention some of the other methods for obtaining the nutrients below.

Get the Best Iron-Rich Foods

Although our bodies are incredibly capable of many things, iron production isn’t one of them. That is why the body needs to be supplied with iron. The best method to provide it is through iron-rich foods.

Foods contain two kinds of iron: heme iron and non-heme iron. Animal sources contain the heme type, while plant-based foods contain non-heme iron. However, the heme type is considered the best type since it has a higher absorption rate of 40% compared to the non-heme type, which has an absorption rate of only 20%.

Heme Sources (Animal-Based)

Heme iron is better taken by the body than non-heme iron, which comes from plant-based foods. The top and most easily available foods in these groups are:

  1. Organ Livers

Organ meats, especially liver from beef, chicken, and pork, are some of the best things you can eat to get a lot of iron. The liver, as an iron storage organ, provides a high concentration of heme iron. This makes organ livers an effective approach to enhancing iron consumption, particularly for people at risk of deficiency or who require more iron.

100 grams (3.5 ounces) of beef liver have 6.5 mg of iron, which is 36% of the DV. Whereas pork liver contains 5.44mg and chicken has the highest source of iron with 7.63 mg in a 100 gram portion.

Animal organs also contain a lot of protein, B vitamins, and copper, which help in different body processes. Even though organ livers are nutrition-packed, they should be taken in moderation because of their high vitamin A and cholesterol content. Pregnant women, in particular, should be very considerate about their intake of these sources.

2. Seafood

Seafood is a tasty and varied way to get more iron in your diet. And the best choice among the seafood is to pick oysters. 100 grams of oysters have 8.26mg of iron in them. The second option among seafood is to go for mussels, as around 6.72 mg of iron can be found in every 100 grams of cooked mussels. The third option is to opt for tuna. 100 grams of tuna have 1.4 mgs of iron, which is about 8% of what the body needs.

Along with other nutrients like niacin, selenium, and vitamin B12, fish is a good source of omega 3, a fatty acid that is good for the heart, the nervous system, and the immune system.

Research suggests that consuming large amounts of meat, poultry, and fish may reduce the risk of iron deficiency. 

3. Red Meat

Pork, beef, lamb, and goat all have iron in them, and this is probably the easiest way to get iron, especially for people who suffer from iron deficiency anemia.

100 grams of ground beef has 2.7 milligrams of iron, which is 15% of what the body needs. Besides that, it is also rich in proteins, copper, and B vitamins. Another source of red meat is lamb, which contains about 1.8 mg of iron per 100 grams of cooked lamb.

While red meat is a good source of iron and other nutrients, it’s best to eat it in moderation because too much fatty fat may cause heart disease. To lower these risks, choose lean cuts of meat and eat red meat only a few times a week.

4. White Meat 

Although it has less heme-iron than red meat, white meat, which includes poultry like chicken and turkey, is still an excellent way to get the iron you need in your diet as it contains rich sources of lean proteins, vitamins, and many other minerals.

The exact amount of iron in meat depends on the source.  For example, dark turkey has 1.4 milligrams of iron per 100 grams, which is 8% of the daily value, and white turkey contains 0.7mg per 100 gms. Chicken breast contains 0.6mg of iron.

All the above-mentioned white meats are a good option for people who want to get enough iron without the health risks that come with eating a lot of red meat. It’s especially good for people who want to balance their protein intake with lower sources while still getting enough iron.

Here is the tabular data of all the food sources mentioned for heme iron along with the RDA for men and women.

Food Source Iron (mg) per 100g RDA % for Adult Men RDA % for Premenopausal Women
Beef Liver 6.5 mg 81% 36%
Pork Liver 5.44 mg 68% 30%
Chicken Liver 7.63 mg 95% 42%
Oysters 8.26 mg 100% 45.8%
Mussels 6.72 mg 84% 37%
Tuna 1.4 mg 17.6% 7.78%
Ground Beef 2.7 mg 33.7% 15%
Lamb 1.8 mg 22.5% 10%
Dark Turkey Meat 1.4 mg 17.5% 7.78%
White Turkey Meat 0.7 mg 8.75% 3.89%
Chicken Breast 0.6 mg 7.5% 3.33%

Non-heme Sources (Plant-Based)Colourful Iron Rich Foods Landscape Poster

5. Fortified Cereals

For many vegetarians, cereals—particularly fortified varieties—serve as a handy and effective means of obtaining the iron they need on a daily basis. Fortification involves adding extra nutrients to them, such as iron or vitamins.  This makes them an easy and effective way to meet your daily iron needs.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that certain cereals can provide 100% of the daily value (DV) for iron, approximately 18 mg. For example, a half cup of unfortified oats has around 10% iron, but the amount in a fortified product is often double what you’d get from eating unfortified oats.

These foods do contain non-heme iron as its source but eating them with fruits specially the ones with vitamin C can for sure enhance the absorbilty of the food hence benefiting your body.

6. Dark Chocolates

Around 12.1 milligrams of iron are found in every 100 grams of dark chocolate. This is about 67% of the Daily Value (DV). While certain varieties of chocolate are heavy in fat and sugar, iron may be found in dark chocolate that has at least 45% cacao content.

Furthermore, dark chocolate can lower cholesterol levels in the blood, which in turn lowers the risk of heart illnesses.

Dark chocolate is a tasty way to get some of the iron you need every day, but it’s also high in calories, so you should only eat it in small amounts as part of a healthy diet.

7. Pumpkin Seeds

If you feel like snacking on a food that also pumps up your iron levels, then pumpkin seeds are what you should think of. About 8.9 mg of iron can be found in every 100 grams of pumpkin seeds. This is about half of the Daily Value (DV).

Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of iron, zinc, magnesium,  and vitamin K, all of which help keep blood sugar levels normal, making it ideal for diabetics.

8. Spinach

One of the best sources of non-heme iron is spinach. About 15% of your body’s iron needs are met by 100 grams of spinach. It means it contains 2.7mg of non-heme iron in 100 grams and a lot of vitamin C, which helps the body receive iron better. Cooked spinach content increases as water loss concentrates nutrients, and 100 grams of cooked spinach provide about 3.6 mg of iron.
Spinach also has a lot of carotenoids, which are antioxidants that may lower the risk of cancer, fight inflammation, and keep your eyes healthy. (1)(2)(3)

You can easily add spinach to your diet by making smoothies, salads, soups, and pasta dishes, or you can use it as a healthy base for many other foods.

9. Legumes/ Beans

Legumes are an important part of plant-based diets and are known for having a lot of health benefits, such as being a great source of non-heme iron. This wide range of foods, which includes lentils, chickpeas, peas, and soybeans, is a healthy, cheap, and flexible way to get more iron, especially for vegans and vegetarians.

Different types of beans have very different amounts of iron. As an example, cooked lentils have about 3.3 mg of iron per 100 grams, making them one of the best legumes for getting iron. In the same way, 100 grams of cooked black beans have about 2.1 mg of iron. And for every 100 grams of cooked white beans, you can expect to receive approximately 2.1 mg of iron.

Due to their high soluble fiber content, they have also been shown in many studies to help people with diabetes, lower their risk of heart disease, and lose weight.  Besides iron, zinc, and potassium, legumes are also a good source of these nutrients.

10. Dried Apricot

As a sweet and healthy snack, dried apricots are a great way to get non-heme iron, which makes them a useful addition to a diet that aims to raise iron levels.

About 2.7 mg of iron can be found in 100 grams of dried apricots. Not only this fruit is a good source of iron, but also a great fiber, enzymes, and vitamins, especially vitamins A and C.

If you’re looking for a versatile fruit, dried apricots are it. These little gems can be savored on their own, mixed into yogurt or morning cereals, baked into sweet treats, or used as a sweetener in savory recipes like tagines and stews.

11. Tofu

Tofu is considered a very nice source for vegetarian protien but also the great souce of iron.

Based on an 18 mg daily value (DV) for iron, 100 grams of tofu has about 2.7 milligrams of iron, which is about 15% of the weekly iron needs. Tofu also has compounds in it called isoflavones that make inskuline, lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease, and help women who are going through perimenopause.

Tofu is great for people who want to get iron from plants because it has a mild flavor and can be used in soups, sweets, stir-fries, and salads.

12. Quinoa

The veracity of delicious grain stands out for its other noteworthy qualities and an amazing source of non-heme iron. About 1.5 milligrams of iron are found in 100 grams of unfortified quinoa.

Apart from this, quinoa is a rich source of nutrients like folate, magnesium, copper, and manganese, as well as having a high protein content. It is also a superior source of antioxidants, which protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.

Vegans may need one to two times more iron than meat eaters

Food Source Iron (mg) per 100g DV % for Women (18mg/day) DV % for Men (8mg/day)
Fortified Cereals 18 100% 225%
Dark Chocolate 12.1 67% 151%
Pumpkin Seeds 8.9 50% 111%
Spinach (Cooked) 3.6 20% 45%
Legumes/Beans Varies Varies Varies
Dried Apricot 2.7 15% 34%
Tofu 2.7 15% 34%
Quinoa 1.5 8% 19%

The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS)  states that foods that provide 20% of a nutrient or more per serving are considered excellent sources. While foods with higher levels are certainly beneficial, a balanced diet with all the good nutrient should also include foods with lower amounts of iron related foods.

Here is a an example of diet plan.

iron levels
Source: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/how-to-meet-your-iron-needs-infographic

Improving Iron Absorption

While we learn all the best sources of heme and non-heme iron, we must also understand that not all iron is absorbed by the body in the same way. According to a 2014 study, the body does not absorb all of the iron we consume at once. Instead, the absorption rate can range from 5 to 35%, depending on various factors, including our health, the foods we eat, and the type of iron we consume.

There are methods for increasing iron absorption in the body and the easiest way is to increase it via foods. The nutrients in these foods help the body process iron better, especially the non-heme iron that comes from plant-based sources.

Examples of these foods included as per research are,Brown Minimalist Food That Contain Iron Instagram Post

  1. Vitamin C: It has been shown that vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. The process takes in non-heme iron and stores it in a way that your body can process more easily. So, when you eat iron-rich foods, get some fruits and veggies like oranges, strawberries, kiwis, bell peppers, dark leafy greens, and tomatoes to better absorb iron.
  2. Fish, Meat, and Poultry: While it’s not rocket science, it has been observed that meat sources, such as fish or poultry, can also help the body absorb the non-heme form of iron better. So, it is a better idea to use both sources of iron—heme and non-heme. For example, if you add a little chicken or fish to a bean meal, your body will receive more of the iron from the beans.
  3. Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene: Vitamin A and beta-carotene also help the body absorb iron (1) (2) So mixing different varieties of foods such as beans and carrot salad or just havinf dried apricots can really help you.
  4. Foods With Lysine: Lysine, an amino acid found in foods high in protein, can help the body absorb non-heme iron better. Meat, fish, chicken, beans, and eggs are all good sources.

Food That Limit Iron Absorption

Just like some foods are there to facilitate iron absorption, there are a few that hinder it. They include

  1. Calcium-containing foods: It has been found in research that consuming excessive amounts of calcium and iron simultaneously can hinder the body’s ability to absorb iron.
  2. Phytate-containing foods: It has been found that phytates, found in whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds, can bind to iron and stop the body from absorbing it. So, it is better to soak these foods beforehand to increase iron absorption.
  3. Polyphenols: Polyphenols in chocolate, coffee, some herbal teas, and berries might hinder the body’s ability to absorb iron.
  4. Foods containing tannins: Tannins, which are present in tea, coffee, and some wines, can hinder iron absorption, especially non-heme iron. To reduce their effect, these drinks should be consumed many hours apart from iron-rich meals.
  5. Egg proteins: One particular protein found in egg whites, avidin, can hinder the absorption of iron. Cooking eggs lessens this effect, but it cannot be entirely removed.

Instead of giving up these foods to help your body absorb iron better, you might want to change when you eat them. To maximize iron absorption, eat vitamin C-rich foods with iron-rich foods at the same meal or eat iron-rich foods at separate times of the day.

Who Needs Iron Supplements?

While everyone can get proper iron levels from food, sometimes changing the diet is still less effective for certain groups of people who might need more iron than others with iron supplementation.

They include the following:

  • Babies, focusing especially on low births and premature ones.
  • Women during their periods need twice as much iron as men)
  • Pregnant women prevent anemia as 29% suffer from anemia in pregnancy.
  • People who donate blood very often
  • People with iron-deficiency anemia, gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, or heart failure
  • Athletes, especially those who train hard, may need more iron than a normal person.

How to Take Iron Supplements

An easy and inexpensive option to increase the iron levels is to take iron supplements. There are many types iron supplements available such as oral, intravenous etc. Each iron supplement has different type of iron in it, but ferrous sulfate, ferrous fumarate, ferrous bisglycinate, and ferrous gluconate are the types of iron that are most often found in them.

The best time to use them is either half hour before your meal (empty stomach) or at least 2 hours later for better absorption. Caffeine, milk, calcium, antacids, and high-fibre meals should be avoided when taking them.

Dosage of Iron Supplements

Dosage of iron supplementation also varies as per a person’s condition. Such as people with anemia might need more iron than athletes. So, your healthcare provider will tell you about an iron supplement and a dosing plan that works best for your needs because everyone needs iron in different amounts.

A typical tablet contains 100-300mg of iron but usually the amount varies. For example, a common iron tablet may have 325 mg of ferrous sulfate, but this does not imply that it contains 100% iron. Ferrous sulfate contains just approximately 20% iron; therefore, 250 mg yields 50 mg of real iron. The label on the supplement will tell you how much iron you’re receiving, so you won’t have to figure it out for yourself.

Side Effects of Iron Supplementation

Consuming iron without food can improve absorption, but it also carries the risk of gastrointestinal side effects.

It is also suggested to avoid consuming iron with certain foods or medications, as it may decrease their effectiveness, including:

  • Dairy products
  • Calcium supplements
  • High-fiber foods like fresh vegetables, whole grains, and bran
  • Caffeine
  • Antacids
  • Antibiotics such as penicillin and ciprofloxacin
  • Medications for Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

People who are thinking about taking iron supplements should always consult their doctor first because too much iron can be dangerous and counterproductive.

Other Methods to Maintain Iron Levels

Besides taking supplements, there are other effective ways to maintain healthy iron levels

Regularly Monitoring Iron Levels: If you’re at risk for iron deficiency or have had low iron levels in the past, testing your iron levels on a regular basis can help you and your doctor decide whether to change your diet or take supplements.

Cooking with Cast Iron Cookware: You might have heard that a natural method to increase your iron levels or intake is to cook with cast iron pots or cookware, which is actually true.  It has been found in a few pieces of research that foods cooked in cast iron pots and pans tend to contain more iron, especially acidic foods like tomato sauce. (1).

So, not only is cooking with cast-iron pans a nod to culinary history, but it’s also a useful way to get more iron into your diet while enjoying all of its cooking benefits.

Getting enough iron is important for staying fit and strong. Eat foods that are high in iron and cook with cast iron pots. These are just a few easy ways to get more iron. Remember, you should always talk to your doctor before taking supplements to make sure you’re on the right track. You can always feel your best if you keep an eye on your iron levels.

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Dr Aimen

Being a Doctor by profession, Aimen is passionate about helping people get better health in their lives. Aimen enjoys her research on Prime With Time subjects and strives to create better awareness of the problems and changes related to women's health.
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