Have you ever wondered why Popeye guzzled spinach each time he had to face Bluto? That is because he needed an extra boost to help him defeat his nemesis. Spinach contains iron, an important mineral that aids in important bodily functions such as transporting oxygen in the blood and contains a number of protein that including haemoglobin, myoglobin, cytochromes, and enzymes involved in redox reaction. Transporting of oxygen in the blood is important because this process provides energy for our daily life.
Back to Popeye, the message he is giving through eating spinach is not only directed to children, but also to the adults. About one-third of the world’s population suffer from iron deficiency. Iron is lost from the body through sweat, blood loss, and through shedding of intestinal cells. An average adult man needs around 1mg of iron, while an average menstruating female needs 1.5mg. Below is a rough sketch of recommended dietary iron intakes per day:
- Infants 0-6 months – 0.2mg for breastfed infants
- Infants 7-12 months – 11mg
- Girls and boys aged 1-3 years – 9mg
- Girls and boys aged 4-8 years – 10mg
- Girls and boys aged 9-13 years – 8mg
- Boys aged 14-18 years – 11mg
- Girls aged 14-18 years – 15mg
- Women aged 19-50 years – 18mg
- Pregnant women – 27mg
- Lactating women – 9-10mg
- Women aged 51 years and over – 8 mg
- Men aged 19 years and over – 8 mg
So… what are the foods that are high in iron? Red meat, varieties of nuts, molluscs, beans and pulses… and the list goes on. For your convenience, here are the top 15 foods that are super rich in iron.
1. Molluscs (Clams, Mussels, Oysters, Cuttlefish, Octopus, Scallops, )
Iron: 28mg – 100mg
Next time you are out at a restaurant, go for the seafood platter. Molluscs like clams, mussels, oysters, and squids are crammed with nutrients, zinc, and vitamin B12. If molluscs are not your choice of food, why don’t you go for salmons, tuna, and haddock? They may have less iron in them compared to molluscs, but they are a fine substitute. If you prefer to eat seafood at home, here is a variety of recipes for you to try!
2. Liver (Chicken, Beef, Lamb, Pork, and Turkey)
Iron: 23mg – 100mg
The first thing that comes to one’s mind is that liver consumption will risk an abundance of cholesterol. Did you know that liver contains heme iron, minerals, vitamins, and proteins? It is better to consume in moderation for pregnant women, because high levels of vitamin A present in the liver may be connected to birth defects. Here is a recipe for liver that is easy to make and is palatable at the same time.
3. Dark Chocolate and Cocoa Powder
Iron: 17mg – 100mg
Dark chocolate is full of minerals and contains a surprising amount of fiber. It not only reduces heart attack risks, but also boosts happiness, eliminating depression. Cocoa powder has similar effects as well. While you can simply buy a bar of dark chocolate (the darker the better), with cocoa powder, you can actually add to your salads or even cereals!
4. Seeds (Pumpkin, Squash, Sesame, Sunflower, Flax)
Iron: 15mg – 100mg
These seeds are super healthy, and the best thing about them is either you can eat them as snacks, or you can add them to any of your meals to increase the amount of iron. You can pop some of the seeds on to your favorite salad, or mix them in a bread or muffin recipe.
5. Dried Fruits (Apricots, Raisins, Peaches, Prunes, Figs, Currants)
Iron: 6.3mg – 100mg
Another super healthy snack that is stashed with nutrients, this is a delicious option for those with sweet tooth. If you are wondering about the difference between dried fruits and fresh fruits, it has been found out that dried fruits are in certain ways much healthier than fresh fruits!
6. Nuts (Cashew, Peanuts, Pine, Almond, Hazelnut)
Iron: 6.1mg – 100mg
Nuts about nuts? Good for you! Each type of nut has its own nutrient value and is rich in iron, calcium, protein, and sufficient amount of fat. You can have 10-11 unsalted nuts per day as a snack, or you can add it to your preferred recipe. Here is a fruity mincemeat with almonds recipe for you to enjoy!
7. Red meat (Beef and Lamb)
Iron: 3.7mg – 100mg
This is only applicable for the lean tenderloin of beef and lamb. Avoid the fats and you are good to eat. Many of you will be skeptical about this point, but just like liver, red meats contain heme iron which is easily absorbed by the body than other minerals. Also, please avoid cooking the meat in excess oil and spices. You can try a steak recipe for an easy dinner in less than thirty minutes.
8. Beans and Pulses (Lentils, Kidney beans, White beans, Black beans, Black-eyed peas, Chickpeas, Lima beans)
Iron: 3.7mg – 100mg
This is perfect for the vegetarians. The iron value for beans and pulses are the same as for red meats. For example, one cup of chickpeas contains a generous amount of protein, besides containing high amount of iron. But the catch is that these foods have non-heme iron. Non-heme iron can only be absorbed through vitamin C. It is known as the iron booster superstar. Papaya, bell pepper, broccoli, citrus fruits (oranges, strawberries, etc) contain enough vitamin C. So, if you can add some of these iron boosters with your beans and/or pulses, the iron intake will be easily digested by your system. Check out this healthy recipe for lentils.
9. Dried Thyme
Iron: 3.7mg – 100mg
Dried thyme has been considered one of the most nutritional foods. It is rich in fiber, vitamin A and C, potassium, manganese, magnesium, selenium, and the best part is it has zero cholesterol! Fresh and dried thyme can be found throughout the year, and you can add them in anything you want to: eggs, salads, or just sprinkle a handful of leaves on top of your pasta! Dried thyme is often used in herbal medicines. Learn more about thyme and you will be surprised to see the benefits of dried thyme!
10. Dark, Leafy Greens (Spinach, Raw Kale, Cooked Turnip Greens, Raw Beet Green, Swiss Chard)
Iron: 3.6mg – 100mg
Did you know that one cup of cooked spinach is enough to provide you with 6mg of iron, plenty of protein, fiber, calcium, and vitamins A and E? Now you know the proper answer to Popeye’s spinach power! Since it is a non-heme iron, it is best cooked with other ingredients that contain vitamin C. The biggest worry is that kids dislike having spinach. You can sneak it into a recipe that kids enjoy such as this vegetable lasagna, something both children and adults can savor.
11. Blackstrap Molasses
Iron: 3.5mg – 100mg
Studies have proved surprising health benefits of blackstrap molasses. It is not only a natural sweetener but is highly nutritious. You can use it as a hair tonic, or as a substitute for sugar, safe for diabetes patients, and you can use it as a health supplement.
Iron: 2.7mg – 100mg
Research shows that tofu is an excellent source of iron, calcium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, protein, and contains all eight essential amino acids. It is also a great option for vegetarians. Tofu can be used as a staple ingredient, but keep in mind that calcium can interfere with iron absorption. It is therefore recommended to buy “tofu without added calcium”. Here is a collection of ways to cook tofu.
13. Potato (Baked, Russets)
Iron: 2.1mg – 100mg
One medium baked potato contains good source of vitamins and minerals. Whereas one large russet potato contains more iron than white or red potato. The U.S Department of Agriculture recommends daily intake of potatoes for both men and women. It is also said that if you eat potatoes with meat, the non-heme iron will help in absorbing heme iron found in meat, thus helping to absorb more iron from the potatoes. You can also make a tasty potato meal ahead of time and have it for a lunch.
14. Whole Grains, Fortified Cereals, Bran
Iron: 1.5mg – 100mg
If you are a cereal kind of a person, then kudos to you, because you are starting the day in a healthy way. These whole grains, fortified cereals, or brans contain enough iron, calcium, fiber, zinc and vitamin B to keep you energized for a long time. Check out the nutritional facts for a better understanding. Please keep in mind that whole grains are good source of iron and MUST not be taken with iron supplement.
15. Egg Noodles (Cooked)
Iron: 1.5mg – 100mg
Another staple food option, egg noodles can be very well substituted for rice. Unlike rice, noodles won’t make you feel heavy and are loaded with important vitamins and minerals. You can cook egg noodles in any way you want to. It is always better to keep the ingredients simple, and fresh. Here is an easy recipe to make egg noodles healthy, yet hearty.
Always remember, too much of calcium or calcium supplements, tannins, phytates, egg proteins and antacids are iron blockers. They will decrease the absorption of iron in your body. Instead, make sure you add vitamin C rich foods with iron rich cuisines. It does not matter whether you are a male or a female, if you don’t have enough iron in your system you are bound to suffer from anemia. It is very common and you’ll be successful in defeating anemia if you always have a iron rich food in your daily intake.