I was recently asked by a family member to provide a list of food sources of iron. This is an important topic because iron seems to be one of the nutrients in which you are most likely to be deficient. If you have iron deficiency, you will feel weak, tired and even irritable due to a lack of oxygen in your tissues and organs.
Oxygen transport and DNA production
The iron in your body is found mainly in two proteins—hemoglobin and myoglobin. Both of these proteins have an iron component that helps to transport and release oxygen. It is for this reason that you need iron to feel well. Hemoglobin transports oxygen from the lungs to all parts of your body, while myoglobin is the oxygen-containing protein in your muscles.
Iron is also forms part of an enzyme needed for DNA synthesis, making it a necessary nutrient for a healthy immune function as well as growth and reproduction.
Your body can store some iron
There is a complex system for absorbing, storing and excreting iron in your body that helps to keep the balance of iron at its proper level. Just in case you need it, your body stores extra iron reserves in your spleen, bone marrow and liver.
Not all iron is created equal
There are actually two types of iron that you can get from your diet. One is “heme” iron that only comes from animal flesh foods. The other type of iron is called “non-heme” iron and is found in both animal and plant foods. It has been shown that the heme iron that you eat is more easily absorbed into your system. This is in part because animal flesh foods also contain a peptide that helps in the absorption of the non-heme form of iron.
Helping iron get absorbed
There are some dietary factors that help iron absorption, such as the presence of the peptide in animal flesh foods mentioned above, and the presence of Vitamin C.
Conversely, other factors can inhibit iron absorption, such as certain vegetable proteins and the presence of substances found in beans and grains, as well as the tannic acid found in teas and coffee. Heme iron seems to be less affected by these dietary factors than the non-heme form.
Here is a list of iron-rich foods broken down into animal and plant foods.
Good sources of iron from animal foods (heme iron):
Clams and mollusks
Salmon and tuna
Halibut, haddock, perch
Good sources of iron from plant foods (non-heme iron):
Potato (especially with skin)
Green bell peppers
Breakfast cereals, breads, pasta, muffins, egg noodles, tortillas and other products enriched with iron
Beans, including pinto, kidney, lima and chickpeas
Lentils and split peas
Nuts, including walnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, roasted cashews, almonds or sunflower seeds
Dried fruits, including apricots, seedless raisins, peaches, or prunes