Top 10 Foods Highest in Iron

Top 10 Foods Highest in Iron

Iron is an essential mineral used to transport oxygen to all parts of the body. A slight deficiency in iron causes anemia (fatigue/weakness), and a chronic deficiency can lead to organ failure. (1)

Conversely, too much iron leads to the production of harmful free radicals, and interferes with metabolism, causing damage to organs like the heart and liver. (1)

The body is able to regulate uptake of iron, so overdose is rare and usually only occurs when people take supplements. Iron from natural food sources, like the ones listed below, are considered safe and healthy.

Foods high in iron include fortified cereals, beef, shellfish, dried fruit, beans, lentils, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, quinoa, mushrooms, and squash seeds. The current daily value (DV) for iron is 18 milligrams (mg). (2)

Below is a list of high iron foods. For more high iron foods see:


List of High Iron Foods

A bowl of bran flakes

#1: Fortified Cereals

Iron
per 3/4 Cup
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
19.6mg
(109% DV)
67.7mg
(376% DV)
34.7mg
(193% DV)
A steak on a plate

#2: Beef (Skirt Steak)

Iron
per 6oz Steak
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
9.3mg
(52% DV)
5.5mg
(30% DV)
4.1mg
(23% DV)

More Red Meat High in Iron

  • 28% DV in a 3oz slice of beef liver
  • 16% DV in a 3oz buffalo steak
  • 14% DV in a 3oz beef chuck roast
  • 14% DV in a 3oz lean ground beef patty (burger)
  • 13% DV in a 3oz lamb shoulder roast
  • 11% DV per 3oz of beef shortribs

See all meats high in iron.

Oysters on a plate

#3: Shellfish (Oysters)

Iron
per 3oz Serving
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
7.8mg
(43% DV)
9.2mg
(51% DV)
11.3mg
(63% DV)

More Seafood High in Iron (%DV per 3oz)

  • 51% DV per 3oz of cuttlefish
  • 48% DV per 3oz of whelk
  • 45% DV per 3oz of octopus
  • 32% DV per 3oz of mussels
  • 18% DV per 3oz of abalone
  • 14% DV per 3oz of scallops

See all fish high in iron.

Dried Apricots

#4: Dried Fruit (Apricots)

Iron
per Cup
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
7.5mg
(42% DV)
6.3mg
(35% DV)
3.9mg
(22% DV)

More Dried Fruit High in Iron

  • 36% DV per cup of dried peaches
  • 26% DV per cup of dried prunes
  • 17% DV per cup of dried figs
  • 17% DV per cup of dried raisins
  • 7% DV per cup of dried apples

Note: Dried fruit is high in sugar and calories.

See the list high iron fruits and vegetables.

White Beans

#5: Large White Beans

Iron
per Cup
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
6.6mg
(37% DV)
3.7mg
(21% DV)
5.3mg
(30% DV)

More Beans High in Iron

  • 49% DV per up of soybeans
  • 37% DV per cup of lentils
  • 29% DV per cup of kidney beans
  • 26% DV per cup of garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • 25% DV per cup of lima beans
  • 24% DV per cup of navy beans
  • 20% DV per cup of black beans
  • 20% DV per cup of pinto beans
  • 20% DV per cup of black-eyed peas

See more high iron vegetarian and vegan foods.

A Bowl of Spinach

#6: Spinach

Iron
per Cup Cooked
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
6.4mg
(36% DV)
3.6mg
(20% DV)
31mg
(172% DV)

More Green Leafy Vegetables High in Iron

  • 22% DV per cup of cooked Swiss chard
  • 16% DV per cup of cooked turnip greens
  • 15% DV per cup of cooked beet greens
  • 14% DV per cup of cooked scotch kale (curly leaf)
  • 14% DV per cup of raw mustard spinach
  • 6% DV per cup of raw kale
  • 5% DV per cup of raw beet greens

See more fruits and vegetables high in iron.

Thick dark chocolate squares melting

#7: Baking Chocolate (Unsweetened)

Iron
per 1oz Square
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
5mg
(28% DV)
17.4mg
(97% DV)
5.4mg
(30% DV)

More Chocolate High in Iron

  • 66% DV in 1 cup of cocoa powder
  • 19% DV in 1oz of dark chocolate (70%-85% cooa)
  • 13% DV in 1oz of semi-dark chocolate (45%-59% cocoa)
  • 6% DV per 1.5oz candy bar
  • 6% DV per 1/2 cup of chocolate mousse
A bowl of quinoa

#8: Quinoa

Iron
per Cup
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
2.8mg
(15% DV)
1.5mg
(8% DV)
2.5mg
(14% DV)

More Grains High in Iron

  • 12% DV per cup of oatmeal
  • 12% DV per cup of barley
  • 11% DV per cup of rice
  • 10% DV per cup of bulgur
  • 7% DV per cup of buckwheat
  • 6% DV per cup of millet

Bran from whole grains can harm absorption of iron supplements, while whole grains are a good source of iron, they should not be consumed with iron supplements. (6)

Mushrooms

#9: White Button Mushrooms

Iron
per Cup Cooked
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
2.7mg
(15% DV)
1.7mg
(10% DV)
12.4mg
(69% DV)

More Mushrooms High in Iron

  • 45% DV per cup of sliced morels
  • 15% DV per cup of cooked white button mushrooms
  • 14% DV per cup of straw mushrooms
  • 10% DV per cup of chantarelles
  • 6% DV per cup of slices oyster mushrooms
  • 4% DV per cup of sliced shiitake mushrooms
Squash and Pumpkin Seeds

#10: Squash and Pumpkin Seeds

Iron
per 1oz Handful
Iron
per 100g
Iron
per 200 Calories
2.5mg
(14% DV)
8.8mg
(49% DV)
3.2mg
(18% DV)

More Nuts & Seeds High in Iron

  • 23% DV per oz of sesame seeds
  • 13% DV per oz of hemp seeds
  • 12% DV per oz of chia seeds
  • 9% DV per oz of dry-roasted cashews
  • 9% DV per oz of flax seeds
  • 8% DV per oz of sunflower seeds
  • 6% DV per oz of almonds

See all nuts and seeds high in iron.

See All 200 Foods High in Iron

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Iron rich foods include fortified cereals, beef, shellfish, dried fruit, beans, lentils, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, quinoa, mushrooms, and squash seeds.

Iron Rich Foods by Nutrient Density (Most Iron per 100 grams)

FoodServingIron
#1 Dried Herbs (Thyme, Parsley, Spearmint, Black Pepper, Marjoram)
(Source)
100 grams687% DV
(123.6mg)
#2 Fortified Cereals
(Source)
100 grams376% DV
(67.7mg)
#3 Spirulina (Dried Seaweed)
(Source)
100 grams158% DV
(28.5mg)
#4 Bran
(Source)
100 grams103% DV
(18.5mg)
#5 Cocoa Powder
(Source)
100 grams86% DV
(15.5mg)
#6 Liver (Chicken Liver)
(Source)
100 grams72% DV
(12.9mg)
#7 Caviar (Fish Roe)
(Source)
100 grams66% DV
(11.9mg)
#8 Shellfish (Oysters)
(Source)
100 grams51% DV
(9.2mg)
#9 Wheat Germ
(Source)
100 grams35% DV
(6.3mg)
#10 Cashews (Dry Roasted)
(Source)
100 grams33% DV
(6mg)

Non-Heme (Plant Based) Iron Foods

FoodServingIron
#1 Vital Wheat Gluten
(Source)
100 grams29% DV
(5.2mg)
#2 Artichokes
(Source)
1 cup28% DV
(5.1mg)
#3 Green Peas
(Source)
1 cup14% DV
(2.5mg)
#4 Tempeh
(Source)
100 grams12% DV
(2.1mg)
#5 Acorn Squash
(Source)
per cup cooked11% DV
(1.9mg)
#6 Dried Goji Berries
(Source)
5 tbsp11% DV
(1.9mg)
#7 Tofu
(Source)
1/5 Block10% DV
(1.9mg)
#8 Whole Wheat Bread
(Source)
1 slice6% DV
(1.1mg)
#9 Molasses
(Source)
1 tbsp5% DV
(0.9mg)
#10 Sorghum Syrup
(Source)
1 tbsp4% DV
(0.8mg)

Heme (Meat Based) Iron Foods

FoodServingIron
#1 Lean Chuck Pot Roast (Beef)
(Source)
3oz18% DV
(3.2mg)
#2 Fish (Mackerel)
(Source)
per 6oz fillet15% DV
(2.7mg)
#3 Canned Tuna
(Source)
1 can (drained)14% DV
(2.5mg)
#4 Lamb Stew Meat
(Source)
3oz13% DV
(2.4mg)
#5 Turkey Meat (Dark)
(Source)
3oz7% DV
(1.3mg)
#6 Trout
(Source)
3oz fillet7% DV
(1.2mg)
#7 Bass
(Source)
1 fillet7% DV
(1.2mg)
#8 Chicken Breast
(Source)
1/2 Breast6% DV
(1mg)
#9 Pork Chops
(Source)
1 chop5% DV
(0.9mg)
#10 Chicken Drumstick
(Source)
1 leg4% DV
(0.6mg)

Heme Iron vs. Non-Heme Iron

  • Non-heme iron comes from plant foods, heme iron comes from animal foods.
  • Heme iron can be absorbed more efficiently by the body.
  • The body can better regulate absorption of non-heme iron, helping to protect against toxic effects.

Factors which Affect Iron Absorption and Retention

  • The most important factor is your existing iron level. A low iron level will increase absorption, while a high iron level will decrease absorption. In general, you absorb 10-15% of the iron from foods. (1)
  • Meat proteins will increase the absorption of non-heme iron. (1)
  • Vitamin C will increase the absorption of non-heme iron by as much as 85%. (1,4)
  • Tannins, oxalates, polyphenols, and phytates found in tea and coffee can reduce the absorption of non-heme iron by up to 65%. Black tea reduces absorption more than green tea and coffee. (1,4,5)
  • The following teas and beverages also inhibit iron absorption: Peppermint tea, cocoa, vervain, lime flower, chamomile, and most other herbal teas with polyphenols. (5)
  • Calcium, polyphenols, and phytates found in legumes, whole grains, and chocolate can reduce absorption of non-heme iron. (1) Further milk, and antacids can inhibit absorption of iron supplements. (6)
  • Some protein from soy products may inhibit non-heme iron absorption. (1)
  • High fiber foods, such as whole grains, raw vegetables, and bran can inhibit absorption of iron supplements. (6)
  • Foods or drinks with caffeine can inhibit absorption of iron supplements. (5,6)

Causes of Iron Deficiency

  • Menstruating Women - Due to blood loss during menstruation, women are at risk of iron deficiency. The greater the blood loss the greater the risk. (1)
  • Individuals with Kidney Failure - People with kidney failure, and especially those on dialysis, are at high risk of iron deficiency anemia. This is due to an inability of the kidney to create adequate amounts of the hormone erythropoietin which is necessary for red blood cell creation, and therefore, retaining iron. (1)
  • Pregnant and lactating women - A developing fetus requires a high amount of iron, likewise, there is a high amount of iron lost through breast milk after birth. (1)
  • Older infants and toddlers - Infants and toddlers require a lot of iron as they grow and so are at risk of iron deficiency. (1
    • The most important factor is your existing iron level. A low iron level will increase absorption, while a high iron level will decrease absorption. In general, you absorb 10-15% of the iron from foods. (1)
    • Meat proteins will increase the absorption of non-heme iron. (1)
    • Vitamin C will increase the absorption of non-heme iron by as much as 85%. (1,5)
    • Tannins, oxalates, polyphenols, and phytates found in tea and coffee can reduce the absorption of non-heme iron by up to 65%. Black tea reduces absorption more than green tea and coffee. (1,5,6)
    • The following teas and beverages also inhibit iron absorption: Peppermint tea, cocoa, vervain, lime flower, chamomile, and most other herbal teas with polyphenols. ()
    • Calcium, polyphenols, and phytates found in legumes, whole grains, and chocolate can reduce absorption of non-heme iron. (1) Further milk, and antacids can inhibit absorption of iron supplements. (6)
    • Some protein from soy products may inhibit non-heme iron absorption. (1)
    • High fiber foods, such as whole grains, raw vegetables, and bran can inhibit absorption of iron supplements. (6)
    • Foods or drinks with caffeine can inhibit absorption of iron supplements. (5, 6)
    • People with low levels of Vitamin A - Vitamin A helps move iron from storage in the body. Without adequate amounts of vitamin A the body cannot regulate iron leading to an iron deficiency. (1)
    • People with gastrointestinal disorders -Diarrhea, ulcers, and other gastrointestinal disorders and diseases can lead to an inadequate iron absorption. (1)
    • Cancer - 60% of patients with colon cancer are iron deficient. 29-46% of patients with other cancers are also deficient in iron. (1)
    • People with Gastrointestinal Disorders - People on a restricted diet, or who have problems absorbing nutrients are at risk for iron deficiency. This includes people after bypass surgery. (1)
    • People with Heart Failure - Around 60% of people with heart failure are iron deficient. (1)

Warnings

  • People with high levels of iron in their body may have Hemochromatosis. They should avoid the high iron foods listed in this article. Hemochromatosis can lead to organ damage. Symptoms include joint pain, fatigue, general weakness, weight loss, and stomach pain.
  • Liver is a high cholesterol food which should be eaten in moderate amounts and avoided by people at risk of heart disease or stroke.
  • Dark Chocolate, Pumpkin Seeds, Squash Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Dried Apricots, and Molasses are high calorie foods and should be eaten in moderate amounts by people with a high body mass index.

View more food groups with the nutrient ranking tool, or see ratios with the nutrient ratio tool.
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Data Sources and References

  1. Office of Dietary Supplements Fact Sheet: Iron
  2. FDA Daily Values Guidelines
  3. U.S. Agricultural Research Service Food Data Central
  4. Hallberg L, Rossander L. Effect of different drinks on the absorption of non-heme iron from composite meals. Human Nutrition Applied Nutrition 1982 Apr;36(2):116-23.
  5. Richard F. Hurrell, Manju Reddy, and James D. Cook. Inhibition of non-heme iron absorption in man by polyphenolic-containing beverages. British Journal of Nutrition (1999), 81, 289-295
  6. National Library of Medicine Fact Sheet on Taking Iron Supplements.

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