Women between the ages of 19 and 50 require 18mg of iron per day, according to experts. Lauren Harris-Pincus, RDN and owner of Nutrition Starring You, states, “Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder.” If you don’t like red meat, or meat in general, then it can be difficult to get enough. According to the National Institutes of Health, vegetarians require about 32 mg per day of iron.
With two kinds of iron necessary, heme and non-heme, it’s important to get enough in your system each day. Harris-Pincus states, “Plants and fortified foods with iron contain non-heme iron only, whereas poultry, meat, and seafood contain both heme and non-heme iron.” Heme iron is absorbed more easily into your system, so if you are sticking more to the plant-based sources then you need to get more.
These 7 foods contain more iron per serving than red meat, which contains 2-2.5mg of iron per serving:
Oysters pack a huge amount of iron—8mg of heme iron per 3-ounce serving. Isabel Smith, RD, founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition, explains, “That’s more than red meat, and also contains less saturated fat than most red meat sources.” Oysters also contain healthy doses of selenium and zinc, which help keep your digestive and immune systems, and your thyroid, functioning efficiently.
2. White beans
Just a ½ cup of white beans added to your soup or salad, or enjoyed as a side dish, will get you about 4mg of non-heme iron. Harris-Pincus states, “Beans are a nutritional powerhouse and also a terrific way to add plant-based protein and fibre to your diet. They can also help lower cholesterol and control blood sugar.” Adding some citrus to your salad will help you better absorb the iron.
3. Blackstrap molasses
Molasses is for more than making holiday gingerbread cookies. Using blackstrap molasses for a sweetener will give you 3.5mg of non-heme iron for every tablespoon you use. Smith states, “Like the other plant-based varieties, this iron is non-heme, so have it with another source of iron or vitamin C.
Blackstrap molasses is packed with antioxidants and other nutrients like bone-healthy calcium and magnesium, as well as vitamins B6 and the thyroid-healthy selenium.” Add blackstrap molasses to your oatmeal, and add some berries for the perfect breakfast.
4. Firm tofu
Eating a ½ cup of firm tofu will get you 3mg of non-heme iron, which is a little more than you will get from the average serving of red meat. But, there are other good reasons to start eating this meat alternative. Harris-Pincus states, “Tofu is a wonderful way to add complete protein to meatless meals. According to the FDA, 25g of soy protein per day may reduce your risk of heart disease.”
Use spinach in your salads, with some added citrus, for an iron boost. One ½ cup of spinach contains 3mg of plant-based iron. According to Harris-Pincus, “It’s a good source of close to 20 vitamins and minerals, not to mention a tasty addition to so many dishes.”
6. Chia seeds
Long recognized as a great part of a healthy diet, chia contains high levels of omega-3s. It’s also a great source of iron, boasting 2mg per 1-ounce serving. Smith states, “Chia seeds are a plant-based source of non-heme iron. It’s also loaded with other benefits like soluble fibre, which is good for digestion.”
7. Cacao nibs and cocoa powder
You can get an iron boost while also satisfying your sweet tooth! Three ounces of cacao nibs or cocoa powder contains about 7mg of iron. Smith says, “It’s non-heme, so not quite as absorbable as animal protein-based iron, but it is rich in heart-healthy flavonoids and brain-healthy magnesium.” Tasty, too!
If you are looking for some other ways to add iron to your diet besides red meat, these are some great options to get your recommended daily amount for good health.