Even in a country as well fed as ours, it can be hard to get all the nutrients your body needs. Iron, which your red blood cells require to transport oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body, is one of those sometimes elusive nutrients. That’s especially true for women thanks, monthly blood loss! and for vegetarians, since meat is one of the best sources of iron.
About one in five women of childbearing age has iron-deficiency anemia, a condition when the body doesn’t have enough iron, according to the National Institutes of Health, and there are more than 3 million cases total in the U.S. It can lead to an array of health problems including dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, and more.
When it comes to the iron we get from food, there are two different kinds: heme, or animal-based iron, and non-heme, or plant-based iron. Zelman explains that heme iron is more easy for our bodies to absorb. So even if you’re eating a lot of iron-packed plant sources, you still might not be getting everything you need.
Tofu is a soy-based food that’s popular among vegetarians and in some Asian countries.
A half-cup (126-gram) serving provides 3.6 mg of iron, which is 19% of the RDI.
Tofu is also a good source of thiamine and several minerals, including calcium, magnesium and selenium. In addition, it provides 20 grams of protein per serving.
Tofu also contains unique compounds called isoflavones, which have been linked to improved insulin sensitivity, a decreased risk of heart disease and relief from menopausal symptoms.
Tofu provides 19% of the RDI for iron per serving and is rich in protein and minerals. Its isoflavones may improve heart health and relieve menopausal symptoms.
2. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are a tasty, portable snack.
A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of pumpkin seeds contains 4.2 mg of iron, which is 23% of the RDI .
In addition, pumpkin seeds are a good source of vitamin K, zinc and manganese. They’re also among the best sources of magnesium, which many people are deficient in .
A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving contains 37% of the RDI for magnesium, which helps reduce your risk of insulin resistance, diabetes and depression.
Pumpkin seeds provide 26% of the RDI for iron per serving. They’re also a good source of several other nutrients, particularly magnesium.
Quinoa is a popular grain known as a pseudocereal. One cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa provides 2.8 mg of iron, which is 15% of the RDI .
Furthermore, quinoa contains no gluten, making it a good choice for people with celiac disease or other forms of gluten intolerance.
Quinoa is also higher in protein than many other grains, as well as rich in folate, magnesium, copper, manganese and many other nutrients.
In addition, quinoa has more antioxidant activity than many other grains. Antioxidants help protect your cells from the damage done by free radicals, which are formed during metabolism and in response to stress .
Quinoa provides 15% of the RDI for iron per serving. It also contains no gluten and is high in protein, folate, minerals and antioxidants.
Turkey meat is a healthy and delicious food. It’s also a good source of iron — especially dark turkey meat.
A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) portion of dark turkey meat has 2.3 mg of iron, which is 13% of the RDI .
In comparison, the same amount of white turkey meat contains only 1.3 mg .
Turkey also packs an impressive 29 grams of protein per serving and several B vitamins and minerals, including 30% of the RDI for zinc and 58% of the RDI for selenium.
Consuming high-protein foods like turkey may aid weight loss since protein makes you feel full and increases your metabolic rate after a meal.
High protein intake can also help prevent the muscle loss that occurs during weight loss and as part of the aging process.
Turkey provides 13% of the RDI for iron and is a good source of several vitamins and minerals. Its high protein content promotes fullness, increases metabolism and prevents muscle loss.
Broccoli is incredibly nutritious. A 1-cup (156-gram) serving of cooked broccoli contains 1 mg of iron, which is 6% of the RDI, making it a fairly good source.
What’s more, a serving of broccoli also packs 168% of the RDI for vitamin C, which helps your body absorb the iron better.
The same serving size is also high in folate and provides 6 grams of fiber, as well as some vitamin K.
Broccoli is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, which also includes cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage.
Cruciferous vegetables contain indole, sulforaphane and glucosinolates, which are plant compounds believed to be protective against cancer.
One serving of broccoli provides 6% of the RDI for iron and is very high in vitamins C, K and folate. It may also help reduce cancer risk.
6. Red Meat
Red meat is satisfying and nutritious. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of ground beef contains 2.7 mg of iron, which is 15% of the RDI .
Meat is also rich in protein, zinc, selenium and several B vitamins .
Researchers have suggested that iron deficiency may be less likely in people who eat meat, poultry and fish on a regular basis .
In fact, red meat is probably the single most easily accessible source of heme iron, potentially making it an important food for people who are prone to anemia.
In one study looking at changes in iron stores after aerobic exercise, women who consumed meat retained iron better than those who took iron supplements .
One serving of ground beef contains 15% of the RDI for iron and is one of the most easily accessible sources of heme iron. It’s also rich in B vitamins, zinc, selenium and high-quality protein.7. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is incredibly delicious and nutritious.
A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving contains 3.3 mg of iron, which is 19% of the RDI.
This small serving also packs 25% and 16% of the RDIs for copper and magnesium respectively.
In addition, it contains prebiotic fiber, which nourishes the friendly bacteria in your gut.
A study found that cocoa powder and dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity than powders and juices made from acai berries and blueberries.
Studies have also shown that chocolate has beneficial effects on cholesterol and may reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes.
However, not all chocolate is created equal. It’s believed that compounds called flavanols are responsible for chocolate’s benefits, and the flavanol content of dark chocolate is much higher than that of milk chocolate.
Therefore, it’s best to consume chocolate with a minimum of 70% cocoa to get the maximum benefits.
A small serving of dark chocolate contains 19% of the RDI for iron along with several minerals and prebiotic fiber that promotes gut health.
The Bottom Line
Iron is an important mineral that must be consumed regularly as your body cannot produce it on its own.
Yet it should be noted that some people need to limit their intake of red meat and other foods high in heme iron.
However, most people are easily able to regulate the amount they absorb from food.