Foods high in iron come from two sources: animals or plants. Learn about the best sources of iron and what foods help with iron absorption
Foods rich in iron come from two sources: animal or plant products. Your body absorbs 2-3 times more iron from animal sources than from plant sources.
Animal-based foods high in iron include:
- Lean beef
- Liver meat
- Tuna fish
Plant-based foods high in iron include:
- Baked potatoes
- Pumpkin seeds
- Dark green leafy vegetables such as
- Iron-fortified breakfast cereals
How can you get more iron from your food?
Some foods can help your body absorb iron more efficiently from iron-rich foods, whereas others can hamper the process.
Foods to eat
Fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C help your body absorb iron more efficiently, so make it a habit to eat vitamin C-rich foods along with iron-rich foods. Some good sources of vitamin C include:
- Bell peppers
Foods to avoid
Foods and beverages that can hamper iron absorption include:
- Whole grain cereals
What happens when you do not have enough iron in your body?
Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, a substance found in the red blood cells that helps transport oxygen to organs and tissues of the body. Insufficient iron levels can make you fall prey to iron deficiency (anemia) and develop symptoms including:
- Shortness of breath during exertion
- Pale skin and fingernails
- Glossitis (an inflamed tongue)
When do you need iron supplements?
If your doctor thinks that you need to increase your iron levels quickly and you have trouble getting enough iron from food sources, you may be prescribed an iron supplement. However, make sure you follow your doctor’s instructions carefully, since high doses can cause iron to accumulate in your organs and cause iron toxicity
Follow these tips when taking iron tablets to ensure maximum absorption:
- Take iron tablets on an empty stomach: Taking tablets on an empty stomach ensures better absorption. However, you can also take them with meals if you experience digestive problems.
- Avoid iron supplements with antacids: Medications such as antacids that are used to relieve heartburn symptoms can hinder iron absorption. Take iron tablets 2 hours before or 4 hours after you take antacids.
- Take vitamin C with iron tablets: Your doctor may prescribe vitamin C along with iron tablets since vitamin C improves iron absorption.
- Do not take iron supplements with calcium, milk, or caffeine: These can reduce iron absorption. Iron supplements can also cause constipation, so your doctor may recommend eating fiber-rich foods or taking a stool softener. Don’t worry if you notice black stools, as this is a common and harmless side effect of taking iron supplements.