Return to Index
- In hemoglobin, carrying oxygen to cells throughout the body
- In myoglobin, holding oxygen within the cells, especially heart and skeletal muscle cells
- Forming collagen, which is the major protein that makes up connective tissue, cartilage, and bone
- Helping fight infection by synthesizing certain enzymes needed for immune function
- Helping convert beta carotene to vitamin A
- Helping make amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein
- Aiding drug detoxification pathways in the liver
- Forming part of an enzyme that is essential for the production of several neurotransmitters
- Synthesizing cellular components that are important to metabolism
Recommended Dietary Allowance
Adequate Intake (AI) = 0.27
Adequate Intake (AI) = 0.27
|Lactation, equal to or less than 18 years||n/a||10|
|Lactation, 19-50 years||n/a||9|
- Fatigue: feeling tired all the time or getting tired easily with activities you used to be able to do without difficulty
- Difficulty maintaining body temperature
- Pale skin, especially the pink lining to your lower eyelids, under your fingernails, or your gums
- Decreased immune function
- Glossitis (an inflamed tongue)
- Unusual cravings for substances like ice, dirt, etc. (called pica)
- Diarrhea (with or without blood)
Major Food Sources
Food Sources of Mostly Heme Iron
|Chicken liver, cooked||3-½ ounces||12.8|
|Oysters, breaded and fried||6 pieces||4.5|
|Beef, chuck, lean only, braised||3 ounces||3.2|
|Clams, breaded, fried||¾ cup||3.0|
|Beef, tenderloin, roasted||3 ounces||3.0|
|Turkey, dark meat, roasted||3-½ ounces||2.3|
|Beef, eye of round, roasted||3 ounces||2.2|
|Turkey, light meat, roasted||3-½ ounces||1.6|
|Chicken, leg, meat only, roasted||3-½ ounces||1.3|
|Tuna, fresh bluefin, cooked, dry heat||3 ounces||1.1|
|Chicken, breast, roasted||3 ounces||1.1|
|Halibut, cooked, dry heat||3 ounces||0.9|
|Crab, blue crab, cooked, moist heat||3 ounces||0.8|
|Pork, loin, broiled||3 ounces||0.8|
|Tuna, white, canned in water||3 ounces||0.8|
|Shrimp, mixed species, cooked, moist heat||4 large||0.7|
Food Sources of Nonheme Iron
|Ready-to-eat cereal, 100% iron fortified||¾ cup||18.0|
|Oatmeal, instant, fortified, prepared with water||1 cup||10.0|
|Soybeans, mature, boiled||1 cup||8.8|
|Lentils, boiled||1 cup||6.6|
|Beans, kidney, mature, boiled||1 cup||5.2|
|Beans, lima, large, mature, boiled||1 cup||4.5|
|Beans, navy, mature, boiled||1 cup||4.5|
|Ready-to-eat cereal, 25% iron fortified||¾ cup||4.5|
|Beans, black, mature, boiled||1 cup||3.6|
|Beans, pinto, mature, boiled||1 cup||3.6|
|Molasses, blackstrap||1 tablespoon||3.5|
|Tofu, raw, firm||½ cup||3.4|
|Spinach, boiled, drained||½ cup||3.2|
|Spinach, canned, drained solids||1 cup||2.5|
|Black-eyed peas (cowpeas), boiled||1 cup||1.8|
|Spinach, frozen, chopped, boiled||½ cup||1.9|
|Grits, white, enriched, quick, prepared with water||1 cup||1.5|
|Raisins, seedless, packed||½ cup||1.5|
|Whole wheat bread||1 slice||0.9|
Other Health Implications Related to Iron
Heart Disease and Cancer
Tips for Increasing Your Iron Intake
- Heme iron is absorbed more efficiently than nonheme iron.
- Heme iron enhances the absorption of nonheme iron.
- Vitamin C enhances the absorption of nonheme iron.
Some substances decrease the absorption of nonheme iron:
Note: Consuming heme iron and/or vitamin C with nonheme can help compensate for these decreases.
- Oxalic acid, found in spinach and chocolate (However, oxalic acid is broken down with cooking.)
- Phytic acid, found in wheat bran and beans (legumes)
- Tannins, found in tea
- Polyphenols, found in coffee
- Combine heme and nonheme sources of iron.
Eat foods rich in vitamin C with nonheme iron sources. Good sources of vitamin C include:
- Bell peppers
- Oranges and orange juice
- Tomatoes and tomato juice
- Spinach and collard greens
- If you drink coffee or tea, do so between meals rather than with a meal.
- Cook acidic foods in cast iron pots. This can increase iron content up to 30 times.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics http://www.eatright.org
Vegetarian Resource Group http://www.vrg.org/
Health Canada Food and Nutrition http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/index-eng.php
Dietitians of Canada http://www.dietitians.ca/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommendations to prevent and control iron deficiency in the United States. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 1998;47:1-32. Available at: http://wonder.cdc.gov/wonder/PrevGuid/m0051880/m0051880.asp .
Duyff R. The American Dietetic Association's Complete Nutrition Guide . Chronimed Publishing; 1998.
Dietary supplement fact sheet: iron. Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/iron.asp. Accessed August 1, 2012.
Pennington J. Bowes & Church's Food Values of Portions Commonly Used . 17th ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 1998.
Wardlaw G, Insel P. Perspectives in Nutrition . 2nd ed. Mosby Year Book, Inc.; 1993.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 08/2012
- Update Date: 08/01/2012