Foods high in iron content

Updated February 21, 2017

Iron is an important part of the human diet. Foods that are rich in iron content fortify a person's blood system. Iron is what is known as a trace element, meaning it is a mineral that is necessary in the human body in very small amounts. Iron is needed in the formation of haemoglobin, which allows red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body. Eating a variety of foods high in iron content keeps such diseases as anaemia at bay.


There are many factors that determine how much iron is needed in a person, with some of them being age, sex, size, and how healthy the individual is. A typical adult male needs to have about 4.5 grams of iron in their body to maintain good health. 70% of this iron goes towards helping to produce haemoglobin. Normally as little as 5% of the iron consumed by people is absorbed into their system, with the iron content some foods being absorbed more readily than others. Iron is stored in such organs as the kidneys, liver, spleen, and also in the bone marrow.


Digestible iron in food comes in one of two types. Heme iron is found in such sources as red meat and seafood, foods that have a very high iron content which the body has little trouble absorbing. Non-heme iron foods such as breads and fruits contain iron, but it is not easily absorbed. As a rule of thumb, animal sources of food are rich in heme irons, while vegetables contain non-heme forms of the mineral.


Foods such as cooked beans and lentils, pumpkin seeds, molasses, and certain enriched breakfast cereals are good sources of non-heme iron. So are baked potatoes with the skins left on, asparagus, and certain forms of pasta. Foods high in heme iron content include clams, oysters, pork livers, chicken livers, and beef livers, mussels, shrimp, sardines, poultry, beef, and other red meats. In most cases the absorption of iron from non-heme foods can be enhanced by eating a heme iron source during the same meal.


Certain foods can also act as an aid in the absorption of iron into the body. Fruits such as oranges, cantaloupes, strawberries, and grapefruits perform this function. So do vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, and red and green peppers. White wine along with orange juice and tomato juice are drinks that can make iron absorption better. Other foods make this task difficult. Such inhibitors of iron absorption include red wines, chard, beet greens, sweet potatoes, rhubarb, soy products, and bran.


Spinach has long been thought of as excellent source of iron. Although it is high in iron content, specifically non-heme iron, spinach contains an acid called oxalic acid. This compound will bind with iron in the body, making it extremely hard to absorb. Other foods that have high degrees of oxalic acid are rhubarb and nuts. To get the most iron out of eating spinach, a person must also consume some of the iron enhancers with it.

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About the Author

John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.