Iron is an essential mineral your body needs for energy.
Most of the iron in your body is found in the red part of your blood. This part of your blood, called hemoglobin, carries oxygen to your body's tissues. Smaller amounts of iron carry oxygen to your muscles, nourish cells and help your body function. Some iron is also stored for future use.
Most people can get enough iron by eating the right amounts of iron-rich foods.
If you don't get enough iron from your diet, you could develop iron deficiency anemia. This condition means you aren't getting enough iron in the foods you eat to make hemoglobin, leading to a loss of energy. Signs of iron deficiency anemia include:
You are at risk for iron deficiency anemia if you:
How much iron do you need each day? The 2001 recommended daily dietary intakes of iron from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are based on age and gender.
7 to 12 months: 11 milligrams (mg)1 to 3 years: 7 mg4 to 8 years: 10 mg
9 to 13 years: 8 milligrams (mg)14 to 18 years: 11 mg19 to 50 years: 8 mg51 and older: 8 mg
9 to 13 years: 5.7 mg14 to 18 years: 7.9 mg 14
to 18 years and pregnant: 23 mg14
to 18 years and lactating (nursing): 7 mg19 to 50 years: 8.1 mg19
to 50 years and pregnant: 22 mg19
to 50 years and lactating: 6.5 mg51 and older: 5 mg
If you have an iron deficiency because there isn't enough iron in your diet, your health care provider may suggest an iron
supplement. Follow his or her instructions.
Iron supplements can
cause stomach or intestinal upsets such as nausea, constipation or
diarrhea. Too much stored iron can damage internal organs.
tea and calcium can block the iron from being absorbed in your body. Do
not drink coffee or tea, and do not take a calcium supplement within 1
hour of taking an iron supplement.
When grocery shopping, look for bread products, cereals and pastas that say "enriched" or "iron fortified" on the label.
Use these foods as sources of iron in your diet every day:
FoodServing size Milligrams of ironReady to eat, 100 percent fortified (such as Total® Raisin Bran)3/4 cup 18 mgReady to eat, 50 percent fortified (Cereals that have 8.4 mg per serving include Cheerios®, Kix®,Special K® and Wheaties®)3/4 cup 9 mgCream of Wheat®1 cup10.3 mgOatmeal, instant, fortified1/2 cup4.1 mg
Milligrams of iron
Ready to eat, 100 percent fortified (such as Total® Raisin Bran)
Ready to eat, 50 percent fortified (Cereals that have 8.4 mg per serving include Cheerios®, Kix®,Special K® and Wheaties®)
Cream of Wheat®
Oatmeal, instant, fortified
FoodServing size Milligrams of ironChicken liver3 ounces 7 mgOysters, breaded and fried6 4.5 mgBeef, chuck, braised3 ounces3.2 mgTurkey, dark meat, roasted3 ounces2 mgChicken, breast, roasted3 ounces3.2 mgTuna, white, canned in water3 ounces0.8 mg
Oysters, breaded and fried
Beef, chuck, braised
Turkey, dark meat, roasted
Chicken, breast, roasted
Tuna, white, canned in water
FoodServing size Milligrams of ironSoybeans, mature, broiled1 cup8 mgLentils, cooked, boiled1 cup 6 mgKidney beans, boiled1 cup5.2 mgPinto beans, boiled1 cup4.6 mgLima beans, boiled1 cup4.2 mgNavy beans, boiled1 cup3.8 mgBlack beans, boiled1 cup3.6 mgSpinach, fresh, boiled1/2 cup3.2 mgSpinach, canned, heated1/2 cup2.5 mg
Soybeans, mature, broiled
Lentils, cooked, boiled
Kidney beans, boiled
Pinto beans, boiled
Lima beans, boiled
Navy beans, boiled
Black beans, boiled
Spinach, fresh, boiled
Spinach, canned, heated
Other foodsFoodServing size Milligrams of ironWhole wheat bread1 slice0.9 mgMolasses1 tablespoon0.9 mgRaisins, seedless500.5 mg
Whole wheat bread
Iron from meat, poultry and fish is easier for your body to absorb than iron from vegetables, fruit and grain sources.
Iron from all sources can be absorbed better when you eat them at the same time as a food that contains vitamin C, such as:
Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Getting Enough Iron in Your Diet, nutr-ahc-21759Some information adapted from Facts About Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (clinicalcenter.nih.gov).
Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts