Iron rich foods for babies list
50 Iron-Rich Foods for Babies, Toddlers & Kids
If it’s time to start introducing solid foods to your growing baby, you may start hearing about iron. You might be wondering: What is iron, why should I care about it, and how can I make sure my baby or toddler gets enough? Let’s take a look.
What Are Iron-Rich Foods?
Iron comes from both plant and animal sources. Some foods that are high in iron include:
- Meat, poultry and seafood
- Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
- Dark leafy greens
- Nuts and seed
- Dried fruits (dates, raisins, apricots)
- Enriched cereals and grain products
Related: Not sure what to feed your baby? Discover the best first foods for babies.
What Is Iron?
- Iron is a mineral that plays an essential role in human health.
- It helps our red blood cells do their primary job: transport oxygen to cells throughout the body.
- Infants’ bodies and brains depend on it for growth and development.
Why Do Babies Need Iron?
During the last few months of pregnancy, newborns build up a store of iron from the nutrients they get in utero (thanks, Mom!). This store of iron lasts for their first 4-6 months of life. (1)
When that supply of iron is diminishing, it becomes important that babies start getting iron from their own diet. By the time those iron stores from birth are running low, many babies are ready to start eating solid foods, so it’s a great idea to make sure those first bites include the iron that older babies need.
Babies who are born early or have other risks of iron deficiency might have had less of a chance to build up their iron supply during pregnancy, and may need iron earlier on in life. If this is a concern, your pediatrician can help determine if and when iron supplements are necessary.
Related: What you should know about toxic heavy metals in baby food.
Iron-Rich Food Ideas for Babies
Serving iron foods to your baby doesn’t have to be a challenge. Here’s a list of snacks and meals that are high in iron and appropriate for babies who are starting solids.
- Ground beef, chicken or turkey crumbles or meatballs/patties
- Canned tuna, salmon or pureed sardines mixed with yogurt or mashed avocado
- Commercially prepared baby food beef, lamb, pork or turkey
- Sweet potato (pureed, mashed or cut into spears)
- Mashed or soft cooked beans
- Pureed, mashed or whole green peas
- Edamame paste spread thin on toast
- Enriched pasta with marinara sauce
- Soft cooked lentils mixed with mashed potato
- Applesauce mixed with crushed pumpkin seeds or pumpkin seed butter
- Oatmeal mixed with crushed nuts or smooth nut butter
- French toast sticks
- Chia seed pudding
- Applesauce or oatmeal with ground sesame seeds
- Soft mango slices rolled in an iron-rich topping like crushed cereal or infant cereal
- Avocado spears rolled in ground pumpkin, sesame or hemp seeds
- Oatmeal with pureed pumpkin or sweet potato
Related: Teach your baby to use their pincer grasp with these pincer grasp activities.
Iron-Rich Food Ideas for Toddlers
Congratulations, your baby is now a toddler! From age 1-3, iron remains an essential part of the diet, but the amount they need drops down to about 7 mg per day. Your growing toddler will be ready and able to handle the more advanced textures and tastes of what’s on your plate, but you should stay mindful of choking hazards. Here’s a list of iron foods for toddlers.
- Tuna salad on crackers or toast
- Hummus dip with pita bread, cucumber and bell pepper spears
- Chili with beans
- Quesadilla with refried beans with salsa dip
- Nut butter and jelly (or sliced berries, pears or banana) sandwich
- Sesame noodles
- Pumpkin pancakes or muffins with strawberries
- Oatmeal with raisins and hulled hemp seeds
- Spaghetti with meatballs or meat sauce
- Pasta with pesto sauce
- Lentil soup
- Burritos made with lentil or ground beef filling
- Whole grain dry cereal with orange slices
- Peanut butter, banana and strawberry smoothie
- Smoothies with leafy greens, berries and hemp seeds
Related: Learn even more about what to feed two-year-olds.
Iron-Rich Foods for Older Kids
Got older kids? Here are more ideas for how to serve foods high in iron to kids.
- Nut butter on toast with sliced banana and chia seeds
- Iron fortified breakfast cereal with fruit
- Breakfast smoothie with nut butter, fruit and yogurt
- Yogurt parfait with berries, pepitas and granola
- Spaghetti and meat sauce
- Minestrone soup
- Lentil soup or chili
- Nut butter and banana roll-ups or sandwiches
- Shrimp and veggie stir-fried noodles
- Peanut mango chicken wraps
- Burrito bowls with meat and/or beans, salsa or diced tomato, olives and cheese
- Veggie sticks with hummus
- Pumpkin seeds
- Roasted chickpeas
- Trail mix with Cheerios, nuts and raisins
- Orange chocolate date balls
- Sesame snaps
How Much Iron Do Babies and Toddlers Need?
From 6 to 12 months old, babies need about 11 mg of iron per day in their diets. That’s a lot of iron! It’s more than young kids need. It’s almost as much as a teenager needs, and teenagers have a lot more room in their tummies to work with!
From age 1-3, iron remains an essential part of the diet, but the amount of iron a toddler needs drops down to about 7 mg per day. (2)
To give you an idea (3):
- ½ cup of canned black beans contains 2.3 mg iron
- 1 ounce canned salmon contains .33 mg iron
- ½ cup of cooked Swiss chard contains 2 mg iron
- 1 ounce of cooked ground beef contains .83 mg iron
- ¼ cup fortified infant oat cereal contains 6.8 mg iron
- ½ cup cooked, mashed sweet potato contains 1.2 mg iron
- ½ cup of Cheerios cereal contains 1.8 mg iron
Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean that your sweet, little 6-month-old needs to start eating steak every day. But it should help you see that you have to make the most of the small amounts of food your baby eats each day as they start solid foods.
Remember, it’s not important that babies get all of their iron in one sitting, or even that they get exactly 11 mg each and every day. Start small, and offer iron-rich foods at each meal and snack time. By the time your baby gets accustomed to solid foods, they’ll be well on their way to meeting their iron needs.
Related: Is your child a picky eater? Read our expert tips for managing picky eating.
If my older baby or toddler is still nursing or drinking formula for most of their diet, don’t they get everything they need from that?
That depends. All babies need iron. While breast milk continues to provide most of the nutrients your baby needs to grow and thrive, it is not a good source of iron. Also, iron from a nursing mom’s diet does not transfer into her milk. So, breastfed babies will need their first solid foods to be rich in iron to meet their needs.
Most commercial infant formulas are fortified with iron, so babies who use formula for the majority of their diet will depend less on solid foods to meet their iron needs.
Related: Need help feeding your 1-year-old? Read more about what 1-year-olds eat.
Do I need to give my baby vitamin drops?
There are many factors that can increase a baby’s risk of iron deficiency. For these babies, iron supplementation might be a good idea. Talk to your pediatrician if you’re concerned about your child’s iron needs. Iron deficiency is common in infants and children. A quick and easy blood test can screen for iron deficiency at your baby’s next well visit.
Do I need to worry about my child getting too much iron?
Generally speaking, you don’t need to worry about your baby or toddler getting too much iron from foods. Babies who are exclusively breast or formula fed using an iron-fortified infant formula, and begin eating solid foods like vegetables, fruits, meats and beans around 6 months of age do not need to worry about getting too much iron.
Babies who are mostly formula fed with an iron-fortified formula should not take an additional iron supplement (or multivitamin containing iron) unless directed by their doctor. If you use a multivitamin with iron, be sure to keep it out of reach from all children in the house, as these supplements are not treats but are often designed and flavored to be very appealing to kids. Getting too much iron from supplements can be harmful.
Related: Learn what’s normal and what’s not when your toddler isn’t eating much.
Iron hacks for busy parents
Sometimes it can seem overwhelming to meet your baby’s iron needs in the small bites that actually make it into their stomachs! A couple of tips to make it a little easier (4,5,6):
- Some types of iron are easier for the body to absorb. Iron from animal products like meat, poultry and fish (called heme iron) is more readily absorbed than iron from plant sources, iron supplements and iron-fortified foods (called non-heme iron).
- You can increase absorption of non-heme iron foods by pairing them with foods that are high in vitamin C, like broccoli, tomatoes and strawberries. This is a great tip for babies, kids and adults alike!
- Iron-fortified cereals and other grains are an easy way to boost iron intake throughout the day.
- Think outside the bowl! Iron-fortified cereals can be used as ingredients in baked goods, casseroles, or other mixed dishes. Check the manufacturer’s websites for recipe ideas.
- Boost the iron content of soft foods like mashed avocado, sweet potatoes, or bananas by adding a spoon full of iron-fortified oatmeal. If you’re doing baby-led weaning, cut these items into spears and roll them in cereal. As a bonus, it can make slippery foods easier to hold!
- Make the most of WIC cereals! If you’re eligible for WIC, take advantage of the cereals in your food package: they are all iron-fortified.
- There is evidence that cooking certain foods in cast-iron cookware can increase its iron content and reduce iron deficiency, so if you are a fan of your cast-iron pan, keep using it!
Related: Create your toddler’s eating schedule in 5 steps.
If you need help getting your toddler to eat foods with iron, download our free picky eating guide.
More Articles From our Child Feeding & Nutrition Experts
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- Is Elderberry Safe for Kids?
- Baker RD, Greer FR. Diagnosis and prevention of iron deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia in infants and young children (0-3 years of age). Pediatrics. 2010;126(5):1040-1050.
- Otten, J. J., Hellwig, J. P., & Meyers, L. D. (2006). DRI, dietary reference intakes: The essential guide to nutrient requirements. Washington, D.C: National Academies Press.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. FoodData Central, 2019. Fdc.nal.usda.gov.
- H C Brittin, C E Nossaman. Iron content of food cooked in iron utensils. J Am Diet Assoc. 1986 Jul;86(7):897-901PubMed
- Adish A.A., Esrey S.A., Gyorkos T.W., Jean-Baptiste J., Rojhani A. Effect of consumption of food cooked in iron pots on iron status and growth of young children: A randomised trial. Lancet (Lond. Engl.) 1999;353:712–716 PubMed
- Sharma S, Khandelwal R, Yadav K, Ramaswamy G, Vohra K. Effect of cooking food in iron-containing cookware on increase in blood hemoglobin level and iron content of the food: A systematic review. Nepal J Epidemiol. 2021;11(2):994-1005. PubMed
Best Iron-Rich Foods for Babies, Toddlers, & Kids (+50 Recipes!)
Ensuring that our kids eat a well balanced diet, including iron-rich foods, can be hard when they’re eating unpredictably. I hope this info on iron-rich foods for kids (and the recipe ideas at the bottom) helps to set your mind at ease!
Ensuring that your kids are getting enough iron can seem hard when they’re in a phase of picky eating—or just not eating a ton. But since iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia are still common issues with kids and it can impact their development and behavior, it’s important to try to include iron-rich foods in their daily meals.
For some context, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Among children ages 1 to 3 years, iron deficiency occurs in 6.6 percent to 15.2 percent of toddlers, depending on ethnicity and socioeconomic status.” Which is much higher than I would have expected. They say that preterm infants, exclusively breastfed infants, and infants at risk of developmental disabilities are at higher risk for deficiencies.
I never want any parents to worry excessively about their child’s nutritional intake and thankfully, adding iron to a diet is actually quite easy.
(My favorite iron-rich recipes include Spinach Muffins, Extra-Veggie Baby Pasta, Oatmeal Bars, Meatballs, Chicken Puree, Butter Chicken, Chicken Tacos and Spinach Eggs. For more, scroll down.)
How much iron does my child need?
Toddlers ages 1 to 3 years need 7 mg/day of iron. Kids aged 4-8 need 10 mg/day. For context:
- ¾ cup of Cheerios: 6 mg
- 1 serving fortified infant oatmeal: 5 mg
- 4 ounce hamburger: 5 mg
- 2 ounces Banza chickpea pasta: 4 mg
- ½ cup dried peaches: 3.2 mg
- 2 ounces Barilla red lentil pasta: 3 mg
- ½ cup of lentils: 3 mg
- 1 cup prune juice: 3 mg
- Spinach Quesadilla: 2.1 mg
- ½ cup dried apricots: 1. 7 mg
- ½ cup oatmeal: 1.7 mg
- Simple Green Smoothie: 1.7 mg
- Spinach Banana Muffin: 1.4 mg
- 1 egg: 1.4 mg iron
- ½ cup raisins: 1.5 mg
- 1 slice whole wheat bread: 0.7 mg
- ½ cup fortified baby puffs: 0.7 mg
- 1 ounce hummus: 0.7 mg
- 2 tbsp peanut butter: 0.6 mg
- ½ cup edamame beans: 0.5 mg
- 1 cup watermelon: 0.4 mg
TIP: It’s possible that your kiddo is already getting enough just by eating normal toddler-size servings.
Does my child need an iron supplement?
This question will vary a lot by child so it’s best to check in with your doctor. Kids are routinely screened for iron deficiency when they’re babies and toddlers, so definitely discuss this with your pediatrician if you don’t remember what those results were, if your child is older, or if you’re just curious about supplementing.
It can be hard to find a multivitamin with iron, so check your label, or consider a separate iron supplement in consultation with your doctor.
What are the best sources of iron for kids?
The AAP recommends that iron comes from iron-rich foods first and foremost. The type of iron in meat, fish, and poultry is easier for our bodies to absorb, but adding a range of iron-rich foods is your best bet. Here are some examples of foods with a good dose of iron.
- Red meats like beef and lamb
- Dark meat poultry
- Fish including shrimp and oysters
- Iron-rich vegetables including dark leafy greens (think Popeye!), baked potatoes, and pumpkin
- Beans and legumes like kidney beans, lentils, and tofu
- Fortified cereals like Cheerios and some hot cereals including baby oatmeal
- Whole grains and whole grain products (including some of the newer bean pastas like Banza)
TIP: A toddler-size serving of meat is 2 tablespoons to ¼ cup. A toddler-size serving of produce is 2 tbsp to ¼ cup. A serving of beans and legumes is 1-2 tablespoons for younger kids and ¼ cup for older kids. (Find more specifics in my Daily Toddler Nutrition Guide.)
Top 10 Best Iron-Rich Foods for Babies
Here are my go-to foods with a lot of iron that you can feed to a baby who’s eating purees or baby led weaning style foods.
- Beef, ground
- Bean puree
- Beans, very soft and lightly mashed
- Bean pasta, cooked very soft (like Banza)
- Chicken, finely shredded or ground or Chicken Puree
- Eggs, scrambled or Egg Yolk Puree
- Green bean puree
- Infant cereal like baby oatmeal, fortified
- O cereal
- Smoothies with spinach or kale (serve on a spoon or in a reusable pouch)
- Sweet potatoes, mashed
- Pea puree
- Peanut butter puree
- Strawberry puree
TIP: Iron stores in babies start to run out starting around 6 months, so you’ll want to incorporate these foods into your baby’s diet from an early age.
Top 15 Best Iron-Rich Foods for Toddlers and Big Kids
These foods are easy to prepare and packed with iron for kids.
- Apricots, dried
- Bean pasta (like Banza with marinara sauce)
- Beef burgers
- Green beans
- Peanut butter
- Smoothies with spinach or kale
- Spinach Pesto
- Wheat bread
TIP: Aim to serve 2-3 of these foods (from either the baby or toddler list) most days and you should easily provide enough opportunities for your child to eat enough iron.
Add Vitamin C for Increased Iron Absorption
If you pair iron-rich foods with produce with plenty of Vitamin C—think citrus, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes, dark greens, and bell peppers—the iron will be more readily absorbed by the body. Some ideas to consider:
- Pasta with Meatballs (Vitamin C from tomatoes, iron from beef)
- Bean Burritos with salsa (iron in beans, Vitamin C from salsa)
- Bean Quesadillas with chopped tomatoes on the side (iron in beans and whole grain tortilla, Vitamin C from tomatoes)
- Simple Green Smoothie (iron from greens, Vitamin C from fruit)
- Spinach Banana Muffins with Banana with kiwi (iron in spinach, Vitamin C from kiwi)
Limit Milk to No More than 24 Ounces Each Day to Avoid Limiting Iron Absorption
Experts at the Mayo Clinic also advise against letting the kids have more than 24 ounces of milk in a day (or three 8 ounce servings) which could negatively impact iron absorption. That much milk could also make them less hungry for other foods, which could also limit how much iron they’re able to eat through foods.
50 Best Iron-Rich Recipes for Babies, Toddlers, and Kids
Here are some of my favorite recipes for kids of all ages that are rich in iron. (The list is organized alphabetically for easy reference, not in order of preference!)
- Bean Puree
- Bean Pasta with Marinara Sauce
- Beef Burritos with Veggies
- Black Bean Quesadillas
- Black Bean Soup with Citrus
- Broccoli Pesto
- Broccoli Cheddar Soup
- BBQ Shredded Chicken
- Cheesy Meat Buns
- Chicken Meatballs with Sweet Potato
- Chocolate Smoothie with Hidden Veggies
- Green Smoothie
- Kale Bites
- Lentils and Rice with Dried Fruit
- Lentils with Tomatoes and Italian Spices
- Lentil Soup with Veggies
- Lentil Falafel
- Meatballs with Hidden Veggies
- Mini Egg Muffins
- Mexican Egg Muffins with Spinach
- Moroccan Lamb Meatballs
- No-Bake Energy Bites
- Nut-Free Hummus
- Oatmeal with Apple and Raisins
- Oatmeal Bars
- Oatmeal with Pumpkin
- Pesto Chicken and Brown Rice
- Potato Nachos
- Pumpkin Oatmeal Bars
- Pumpkin Oatmeal Muffins
- Slow Cooker Chicken and Bean Tacos
- Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup
- Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos
- Spinach Banana Muffins with Banana
- Spinach Pancakes
- Spinach Eggs
- Spinach Pesto
- Spinach Quesadillas
- Strawberry Puree
- Strawberry Smoothie
- Strawberry Muffins
- Sweet Potato Quesadillas
- Sweet Potato Baby Food
- Tofu Nuggets
- Tofu, Baked
- Tofu with Sesame
- Whole Wheat Bread
- Veggie Chili
- Veggie Chili Mac
- Zucchini Burgers
Printable Iron-Rich Foods List
For easy reference, you can print this list of iron-rich foods for kids keep in your kitchen, or save the image on your phone. Simply sign up for my newsletter and gain access to my entire FREE Resource Library of printables.
I’d love to hear if iron has been an issue for you with your kids. Chime in below in the comments!
10 iron-rich foods (list)
Iron is an essential trace element needed by all living organisms. It helps to synthesize collagen and serotonin, supports the immune system and is involved in metabolic processes . But the main function of iron is cellular respiration. This microelement is part of hemoglobin, the protein that makes up red blood cells. It is iron that helps blood cells to bind oxygen and deliver it to the tissues, and then remove the exhaust carbon dioxide from the body. By the way, it also stains the blood red.
Our body is unable to produce iron on its own. He gets it from food, so it is important that the diet is varied. There are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. The former is absorbed more efficiently . It can be found in meat, fish and seafood. The source of the second is plant food. Here is a list of foods with the highest iron content of both types. Including them in the diet will help replenish the micronutrient reserves.
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Daily intake of iron
Women aged 19-50 need iron the most. They need to receive at least 18 mg of the trace element per day. During pregnancy, the need for it increases to 27 mg. Adolescents 14–18 years of age also require an increased iron content: girls - 15 mg, boys - 11 mg. The average daily intake of iron for adult men and older people of both sexes is 8 mg . It increases significantly with intensive sports, regular heavy physical exertion and heavy menstruation.
Foods high in iron
- Red meat
- Pumpkin seeds
- Dark chocolate
Almost all types of shellfish are rich in iron. Thus, one hundred-gram serving of oysters contains about 3 mg of iron, which is 17% of the daily requirement . In addition, this amount also provides 24% of the Daily Value of Vitamin C and 4% of the Daily Value of Vitamin B12. Shellfish are also low in calories, high in protein, and increase levels of "good" cholesterol, which prevents heart disease.
Liver, kidneys, brain, heart, stomachs and other offal contain large amounts of iron. Although not everyone likes their taste, offal often surpasses meat in terms of nutritional content. For example, to get 36% of the daily value of iron and meet the daily requirement for vitamin A, it is enough to eat only 100 g of beef liver . In addition, offal is a good source of protein, copper, selenium and choline, which is important for the liver.
It is the main source of easily digestible heme iron. At the same time, the darker the meat, the more this trace element in it. One 100 gram steamed ground beef patty contains 2. 7 mg of iron. This fills the daily requirement by 15% . Meat also serves as a source of protein, zinc, selenium, and B vitamins. But poultry is not so rich in iron: in 100 g of turkey, its content does not exceed 0.7 mg .
© Andrijana Bozic /Unsplash
Such a rich set of nutrients, as in spinach, is rare. It contains folate, lutein, beta-carotene, calcium, vitamins A and E. In addition, 100 g of the product replenishes 15% of the daily iron requirement. It is non-heme, but at the same time it is quite well absorbed due to the high concentration of vitamin C in spinach. Doctors advise to boil the leaves a little - this will help reduce the amount of oxalic acid, which prevents the absorption of iron .
But keep in mind: 100 g of fresh spinach is a big package. It is designed for several people, and it is hardly possible to eat it at a time. In addition, spinach tends to accumulate nitrates, which are often used in its cultivation. Buy the product in trusted farm shops or in special organic packages. Or try growing it yourself - on the windowsill. In winter, instead of fresh spinach, you can take frozen: all its beneficial properties and taste are preserved.
This is a must have for vegetarians and vegans. Legumes are one of the best plant sources of iron. Chickpeas, peas, lentils, beans, soybeans - choose what you like. One cup of boiled lentils contains 6.6 mg of iron. This is 37% of the daily norm . And half a cup of boiled beans is enough to fill 10% of the daily requirement for an element . In addition, legumes give a feeling of satiety for a long time and allow you to reduce calorie intake .
Pumpkin seeds can be a snack option. 100 g of the product contains 9 mg of iron, or half of the daily recommended amount . But you can't get carried away with them. First, it can cause problems with the gastrointestinal tract. Secondly, pumpkin seeds are very nutritious. A 100-gram serving provides the body with 559 kcal. To increase your iron levels without harming your health, add a small handful of seeds to your salad, porridge, or soup.
South American groats are often used as a substitute for cereals containing gluten. Add 100 g of boiled seeds to your favorite salad to replenish 8% of the daily iron requirement . Unlike traditional cereals, quinoa is rich in protein containing essential amino acids . Interestingly, our body perceives quinoa as a protein from cow's milk.
© Engin Akyurt /Pexels
A diet rich in broccoli helps improve eyesight, reduces inflammation and slows down aging. Broccoli cleanses the body, removes cholesterol and excess sugar. Use it as a side dish — a glass of cooked broccoli provides 6% of your daily iron requirement . To get the most benefit, steam broccoli for no longer than 5 minutes. This will help preserve vitamin C.
Making tofu is like making cheese from milk, which is why many people call it soy cheese. In terms of its nutritional properties, it is almost as good as dairy products - for this, vegans and people with lactose intolerance fell in love with it. 100 g of tofu contains 17 g of protein, which is easily and quickly absorbed by the body. In addition, the same amount of the product helps to cover 15% of the daily requirement of iron .
Chocolate not only brings pleasure and stimulates the production of the “hormone of happiness”, but also helps to normalize iron levels. Choose chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa . Nutritionists advise eating no more than a quarter of a chocolate bar a day. This will be enough to compensate for 17% of the daily iron requirement, improve the intestinal microflora and improve mood.
© Dovile Ramoskaite/Unsplash
Why iron deficiency is dangerous
Iron deficiency usually has no symptoms at first. But if you do not replenish its reserves on time, you can provoke the development of iron deficiency anemia . Its main symptoms are: weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath, pallor, drowsiness, loss of appetite, heart palpitations and headaches . There may be a desire to eat something inedible - chalk, clay, paper or ice. With a lack of iron, the cells begin to "suffocate", which is why many vital metabolic processes are disrupted in the body.
Iron deficiency also contributes to reduced immunity and a high risk of infections . In addition, it is one of the causes of hair loss. The trace element is responsible for delivering oxygen to the follicles, thereby strengthening and nourishing the roots. With its deficiency, the hair becomes dry and weak and may begin to fall out . Among other external signs: sores in the corners of the mouth, dry skin, brittle exfoliating nails. According to a study by Japanese scientists, in some cases, iron deficiency causes depression .
© Engin Akyurt/Pexels
If you notice signs of iron deficiency, seek medical attention. He or she will order blood tests, identify the source of the problem, and be able to create a treatment plan tailored to your individual needs.
Evgeniya Maevskaya, MD, gastroenterologist and nutritionist GMS Clinic
How often do you need to take a blood test to find out about iron deficiency in time?
The frequency depends on many factors: general health, clinical signs of overt or latent deficiency, being at risk for iron deficiency, or the presence of chronic diseases, including the gastrointestinal tract.
For a potentially healthy person, it is enough to monitor blood counts every six months. However, a general analysis is not enough. At a minimum, it should be supplemented by a study on serum iron and ferritin, otherwise signs of a latent deficiency can be missed. In some cases, a more rare test is needed - for soluble transferrin receptors. This is determined only by the doctor.
Is it possible to make up for iron deficiency only through plant foods? What is your advice for vegetarians and vegans?
Treatment of anemia with dietary iron alone is not possible due to its low content and low bioavailability. Anemia is treated only with iron supplements.
Vegetarians and vegans should eat as varied a diet as possible, including vegetable sources of iron such as sea kale. Shrimps, mussels, and sea fish can serve as a good source of iron if allowed. It is better for vegetarians to undergo an examination and make sure that there is no atrophy in the stomach and problems in the intestines. With atrophy and insufficient acidity of the stomach, the transition of non-heme iron from plant foods to the digestible heme form is significantly difficult, which means that it will not be absorbed.
What to do if a person notices symptoms of iron deficiency?
At the first symptoms of iron deficiency, you should consult a doctor. It is important not only to correct the deficiency, but, most importantly, to identify its cause. It is impossible to do this on your own.
Why is excess iron in the body dangerous?
The so-called iron overload is certainly dangerous. It can lead to damage to internal organs, fibrosis in organs and tissues. There is also evidence of direct damage to the genetic apparatus of cells. Most often, the liver, pancreas and myocardium suffer - this manifests itself in the form of toxic cardiomyopathy and arrhythmias. This situation is more likely with parenteral or enteral uncontrolled administration of iron. Diet cannot be the cause of excess iron.
what products contain, how to take them correctly according to doctors
One of the key points of the health of our body is the saturation of tissues and organs with oxygen. It is in this process that iron is involved. This element is one of the important components of hemoglobin, the main oxygen carrier in the body. But this is not the only function of iron: without it, it is impossible to carry out DNA synthesis, energy metabolism and adequate functioning of the immune system.
The main causes of iron deficiency in the body:
- inflammatory diseases,
- problems with the absorption of this nutrient in the stomach and intestines.
An unbalanced diet, lack of iron-rich foods in the diet can also lead to iron deficiency. Today, iron deficiency anemia is one of the main health problems: this condition affects people, regardless of gender and age, anemia affects about 30% of the world's population (1).
One of the main reasons is inadequate nutrition. The body receives the main supply of this substance from the destroyed "old" erythrocytes, but it is only enough to create new blood cells. Other processes require a micronutrient obtained from food.
For the normal functioning of organs and systems, a person needs 20-25 mg of iron per day. Moreover, the need of the female body for this nutrient exceeds the male twice (2).
What you need to know about hardware
|Basic functions in the body|| • Transports oxygen to organs and tissues and participates in the removal of carbon dioxide; |
• participates in metabolic processes (contained in many enzymes, proteins), in the utilization of toxins, cholesterol metabolism, transforms calories into energy;
• participates in the functioning of the immune system;
• Supports thyroid and pancreatic function;
• participates in the formation of hair, nails and skin cells;
• is actively involved in the formation of the fetus.
|Iron requirement (per day)|| • Men - 8 mg |
• Women - 18-20 mg
• Pregnant women - 27 mg
• Children up to 13 years - 7-10 mg
• Adolescent boys - 11 mg
• Adolescent girls - 15 mg
• People over the age of 51 - 8 mg
|Physiological iron loss|| • Men - 1 mg/day |
• Women - 2 mg/day
|Sources of iron|| • Heme iron: liver, beef, poultry, fish |
• Non-heme iron: plant foods
|Effects on iron absorption|| • Increases: ascorbic acid, folic acid, vitamin B12, copper |
• Reduces: tea, coffee, dairy products, rice, nuts and seeds
|Factors that increase the loss of iron in the body|| • Injuries, cuts, surgeries, etc.; |
• insufficient intake of iron from food;
• excessive intake of phosphates, oxalates, calcium, zinc, vitamin E;
• lead poisoning, antacids;
• peptic ulcer, gastritis, dysbacteriosis, tumors;
• worm infestation;
• violation of vitamin C metabolism;
• intensive body growth;
• heavy menses;
• playing sports;
Who is recommended to eat foods rich in iron
Everyone needs to add iron-rich foods to their diet. This is especially true for pregnant women, as they are most susceptible to a lack of iron in the blood. According to WHO, 42% of all pregnant women are found to be iron deficient (3). The fact is that during the bearing of a child in women, a number of physiological processes change. The volume of blood plasma increases by almost 50%, and the number of blood cells increases by only a quarter (4). Hence the need for iron and trace elements - for increased hemoglobin synthesis. The consumption of this substance also increases for the needs of the placenta and fetus and during breastfeeding.
A growing body needs more iron. There are two such periods in a child's life:
- the first two years associated with intensive growth,
- the period of puberty, in which rapid growth also occurs.
During adolescence, children need more iron than adults. 96% of all cases of adolescent iron deficiency anemia (5) are alimentary in nature, that is, associated with malnutrition.
Often, iron deficiency in the body leads to its poor digestibility. This may be due to inflammatory processes in the intestine, atrophic or cicatricial changes in it.
People (especially the elderly) have an increased need for iron in case of infectious diseases, metabolic disorders, tumors and burns.
Iron deficiency occurs after surgery, trauma with blood loss, after chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and after heavy menstruation in women.
Increased consumption of iron-rich foods is advisable during high physical activity (applies to athletes and people doing hard physical work), since iron is directly involved in the conversion of calories into energy.
What foods contain iron
You can get enough iron from food to meet your daily requirement. It can be heme or non-heme iron. Both types of trace elements are absorbed by the body, but the absorption of heme iron is much higher.
Let's talk about 16 iron-rich foods.
Foods rich in heme iron
Heme iron is of animal origin. It is found in meat, poultry, fish and seafood.
1. Eggs and egg productsPhoto: pixabay.com
Oddly enough, egg powder contains the most iron of animal origin - 8.9 mg per 100 g of product, which covers 64% of the daily iron requirement.
100 g of chicken egg yolk contains 6.7 mg of iron, the whole egg - 2.5 mg per 100 g, quail - 3.2 mg per 100 grams.
In addition to iron, eggs contain more than 40 types of vitamins, a large number of micro and macro elements, a complete protein with essential amino acids.
2. OffalPhoto: pixabay.com
Beef liver is richer in iron than others. 100 g of the product contains 49% of the body's daily requirement for this trace element - 6.9 mg. In addition to heme iron, the liver contains a high percentage of protein, vitamin A, copper and other beneficial substances.
Beef kidneys are also rich in iron: 6 mg per 100 g of product, which corresponds to 43% of the daily value.
3. SeafoodPhoto: pixabay.com
Oyster is the third representative of seafood. 100 g of oysters contain 6.2 mg of easily digestible iron (44% of the daily requirement). Oysters are rich in vitamins C and B12, protein and cholesterol. Seafood is not only healthy, but also low in calories.
Less iron in mussels - 3.2 mg (23% of the daily requirement), even less in shrimp - 1.8 mg (13% of the daily requirement). The squid closes this list - 1.1 mg per 100 g of product (8% of the requirement).
4. Rabbit meatPhoto: pixabay.com
This diet product contains 3.3 mg of iron per 100 g of meat, which is 24% of the daily requirement for heme iron.
More than other types of meat, rabbit meat contains vitamins (B6, B12, PP), phosphorus, cobalt, manganese, potassium and fluorine. This meat is hypoallergenic and easy to digest.
5. BeefPhoto: pixabay.com
Beef also has a high content of heme iron - about 2.7 mg per 100 g of product. Such a volume of the product will fill 19% of the daily requirement of the body. Meat comes in different categories: the darker it is, the more iron it contains. Meat also contains many B, A, K and PP vitamins, proteins (including collagen and elastin), micro and macro elements.
6. CaviarPhoto: pixabay.com
Black caviar contains 2.4 mg of heme iron (per 100 g of product), which corresponds to 17% of the daily requirement. Caviar is famous for its unique chemical composition: 30% soluble proteins, 13% fats, lecithin, vitamins, folic acid, essential amino acids, minerals.
Less iron in red caviar - 1.8 mg per 100 g (13% of the daily requirement). A more budgetary product - pollock caviar - contains 1.5 mg of iron per 100 g (11% of the daily requirement).
7. Meat (lamb, pork)Photo: pixabay.com
Lamb can be safely attributed to dietary products with a high iron content - 2 mg per 100 g (14% of the daily requirement). This meat is easily digestible and has a low calorie content, does not increase cholesterol levels. Lamb is rich in beta-carotene, zinc, vitamins B1, B12, A, D and protein.
Pork meat has slightly less iron - 1.7 mg (12% of the daily requirement).
8. PoultryPhoto: pixabay.com
100 g of chicken meat contains 1.6 mg of iron or 11% of the daily requirement. Slightly less nutrient in a turkey - 1.4 mg.
Broiler meat contains 1.3 mg of heme iron per 100 g (9% of the daily requirement).
In terms of easily digestible proteins, poultry meat is ahead of pork and beef. It is dietary, low-calorie, contains vitamins A, B1, B12, PP and minerals.
9. FishPhoto: pixabay.com
Mackerel is the leader in this category - 1.7 mg per 100 g of product (12% of the daily requirement). Sprat contains 1.4 mg of iron, in horse mackerel and herring 1.1 mg of a useful substance, in salmon and salmon 0.8 mg each.
Approximately the same content of heme iron in river fish. In addition, fish is a source of minerals (calcium and phosphorus), iodine, manganese and copper.
10. Dairy productsPhoto: pixabay.com
Sour cream, cream, hard and processed cheeses, cottage cheese, milk powder - all these products also contain iron. Its concentration ranges from 0.3 to 1.0 mg per 100 g of product.
Most iron in fatty cheeses and sausage cheese - 1.0 mg per 100 g. The same amount of substances in powdered milk, slightly less in cheese - 0.7 mg.
Foods rich in non-heme iron
Non-heme iron comes from plant foods. It is absorbed worse than heme, but this does not mean that you need to eat only meat, trying to get enough of easily digestible iron. Nutrition should be balanced, complete and varied.
1. SesamePhoto: pixabay.com
Sesame contains the highest content of non-heme iron: 16 mg per 100 g of seeds, which completely covers the daily need for iron.
Sesame also contains a lot of vegetable proteins and fats, vitamins of groups A, B, C, E, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus, potassium and calcium. Sesamin in its composition slows down skin aging. Sesame oil - antioxidant, improves digestion, improves immunity.
2. SeaweedPhoto: Loyna, wikipedia.org
Seaweed contains 16 mg of iron per 100 g. A combination of fatty acids (Omega-3) with iodine, vitamins A, B, C, E, D, minerals and dietary fiber makes this product an indispensable source of nutrients.
3. LegumesPhoto: pixabay.com
Lentils come first. This leguminous plant more than other cereals contains the iron we need: in 100 g of lentils it is 11.8 mg (84% of the daily requirement).
The product is easily digestible, contains amino acids, vitamin B1, many trace elements. Lentils contain a lot of folic acid, which is so necessary during pregnancy.
A lot of iron in peas: 7 mg per 100 g of product, and the protein content is higher than in many types of meat.
4. CerealsPhoto: pixabay.com
Buckwheat is the leader among cereals. The iron content of whole buckwheat is 8.3 mg per 100 g of grain (59% of the daily requirement). According to these indicators, it is ahead of meat and seafood. Buckwheat is also an indispensable source of protein, vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
Slightly less iron in barley - 7.4 mg, and also high in protein, vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Even less iron in wheat and oats: 5.4 mg per 100 g of grain.
5. Seeds and nutsPhoto: pixabay.com
Sunflower seeds contain 6.1 mg of iron per 100 g of seeds. Slightly less in pine nuts and peanuts: 5.5 mg and 5 mg, respectively. In hazelnuts - 4.7 mg of iron, in almonds - 4.2 mg, in pistachios the content of this nutrient is 3.9 mg per 100 g.
apples - 6 mg per 100 g of the product. Fresh apples are significantly inferior to them - 2.2 mg.
A lot of iron in figs, apricots and dried apricots - 3.2 mg per 100 g of the product. 3 mg of iron in 100 g of raisins, dried peaches and prunes, 2. 5 mg in persimmons and pears.
The most iron-rich greens are: spinach (3.5 mg), basil (3.2 mg) and parsley (1.9 mg).
How to properly take foods with iron
First of all, nutrition should be balanced - and not only for iron. When compiling your menu, remember the substances that help and hinder the absorption of iron.
Do not mix with calcium and magnesium
When cooking, do not mix iron-containing products with dairy and fermented milk products. The calcium present in them reduces the absorption of iron.
Also, don't fill your food with seeds and nuts. They contain a lot of magnesium, which prevents the absorption of heme iron.
Tea and spicy food separately
Do not drink tea or coffee with meals. These products contain substances - iron antagonists.
Do not eat spicy and acidic foods with iron-containing foods. It irritates the gastrointestinal mucosa and reduces the absorption of iron.
Choosing a side dish for meat
Rice should not be used as a side dish for meat. It slows down the absorption of iron. Give preference to other cereals, legumes, vegetables and greens with a high content of vitamin C.
The right combinations
Assistants in the absorption of iron - vitamins. There are many of them in fruits, red peppers, carrots, tomatoes, spinach, berries, and eggs.
It is also recommended to combine heme and non-heme iron, this increases the absorption of the substance.
Cooking in cast iron
Cooking in cast iron cookware with the lowest possible heat treatment adds iron to food.
Reviews of doctors about products with iron
In medicine, great importance is attached to proper nutrition. Today, iron deficiency anemia (IDA) has become a major health problem. The incidence rate is on the rise. The main problem is that 90% of anemias are iron deficiency (2), most of them are nutritional in nature, that is, they are related to nutrition.
Doctors pay special attention to the diet of pregnant women, since anemia preceding pregnancy complicates its course (6).
“Often, women enter pregnancy already having a low level of hemoglobin,” says obstetrician-gynecologist Natalia Kosolapova . - In this case, IDA in pregnant women is more difficult, as the body has time to adapt to a low level of iron. An excellent means of preventing anemia in preparation for pregnancy is proper nutrition, balanced, including iron.
Doctors consider the rational nutrition of children especially important, especially during puberty. The frivolous attitude to food of adolescents themselves contributes to the increase in the incidence of IDA in minors.
— In the last decade, the incidence of iron deficiency anemia has steadily increased. This is especially noticeable among adolescents: the incidence of IDA has increased by almost 300% and almost all of it is related to nutrition. The reason is not always the availability of products, says general practitioner Mikhail Lystsov . - More than half of the children complain about the lack of time for food, high employment, love for convenience foods and fast food, a tendency to vegetarianism. Among girls, a high percentage of partially hungry or refusing some meals due to the high motivation to lose weight.
Popular questions and answers
The topic of proper nutrition is popular today. We will briefly answer the most frequently asked questions regarding the importance of iron in the body.
How do you know if there is a lack of iron in the body?
Lack of iron in the body leads to anemia. Symptoms: fatigue, drowsiness and reduced efficiency, dizziness and headache, the skin becomes noticeably paler, the structure of hair and nails changes, the heart rate increases, shortness of breath appears. Reliably the presence of anemia will show a blood test.
What foods interfere with iron absorption?
Foods high in calcium (dairy and sour milk, some juices), rice, tea, coffee and alcohol interfere with the absorption of iron. Nuts and seeds will reduce the absorption due to the magnesium they contain, as well as spicy and acidic foods taken together.
What are the consequences of prolonged lack of iron in the body?
The consequence of iron deficiency is iron deficiency anemia. Also, iron deficiency adversely affects the condition of the skin, hair and nails.
- Frequency and prevalence of iron deficiency anemia. Zhorova V.E. Khilkevich E.G. URL: https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/chastota-i-rasprostranennost-zhelezodefitsitnoy-anemii/viewer
- Iron deficiency anemia. Modern tactics of diagnosis and treatment, criteria for the effectiveness of therapy. Stuklov N.I., Semenova E.N. URL: https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/zhelezodefitsitnaya-anemiya-sovremennaya-taktika-diagnostiki-i-lecheniya-kriterii-effektivnosti-terapii/viewer
- The role of iron in the human body. Iron-deficiency anemia. Sargsyan A.M. URL: https://cyberleninka.