You just might be surprised by some of the top foods high in iron to keep your energy levels up all day long.

Lauren Wicks
October 09, 2019

Featured Recipe: Smoky Grilled Flank Steak

Iron is an essential nutrient for so many important reasons—from keeping our energy levels up all day to transporting oxygen to our blood and regulating our body temperature. Unfortunately, low iron intake is pretty common in our country—especially in women—which can lead to iron deficiency anemia, a blood disorder.

Luckily, you don't have to chow down on a steak to get the biggest iron bang for your buck. However, there are different types of iron. Meat and seafood contain heme and nonheme iron, whereas vegetarian sources only contain nonheme iron. Lisa Valente, MS, RD and EatingWell's Senior Nutrition Editor recommends pairing iron-rich foods with vitamin C. "Nonheme iron isn't as easily absorbed, so if you do eat mostly plant-based iron-rich foods try to eat them with vitamin C. Think of a spinach and citrus or berry salad or eating beans with tomatoes," she says.

Most adult women need 18mg of iron daily, whereas men only need 8mg (pregnant woman have increased iron needs, and post-menopausal women need less). Preventing iron deficiency can start with incorporating more plant proteins, leafy greens and good carbs in your diet—with room for delicacies like creamy dark chocolate and half-shell oysters. Looks like getting enough iron will be a whole lot easier than it seems. Here are eight delicious foods with more iron than a 3-ounce serving of beef:

1. Oysters

Featured Recipe: Oysters on the Half Shell with Mignonette Sauce

Oysters are one of the highest sources of iron out there, with 8mg per three-ounce serving. That's 44% of your daily recommendation. Oysters are low in calories and high in protein, making them a great weight loss food.

They are also high in some nutrients that are harder to get like zinc, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and selenium. Oysters are also regarded as an aphrodisiac and could help get you "in the mood." (See 6 more foods to eat for better sex).

Related: Recipes to Boost Your Iron Intake

2. Beans

Featured Recipe: Ratatouille with White Beans and Polenta

We all know that beans, beans, they're good for your heart—but they're also good for your energy level. White beans and kidney beans in particular are high in iron, containing eight and four grams per cup, respectively.

Beans possess a crucial fiber-protein combo to help keep you full until your next meal. And as if that weren't enough to load them into your favorite soup, grain bowl and burrito recipes, beans are also loaded with potassium, magnesium and calcium.

3. Dark Chocolate

Featured Recipe: Coconut Dark Chocolate Truffles

Don't feel like you have to sit out on your dark chocolate cravings—this delicious treat is loaded with nutrition too. Just one ounce of the stuff has 3.3mg of iron, along with a hefty magnesium, fiber and manganese boost. You'll even get more than two grams of protein.

When looking for dark chocolate, be sure to watch out for how much sugar is being added and the percentage of cacao in the product. Aim for at least 50% cacao in whichever bar you choose—check out some of our favorite brands, here.

4. Spinach

Featured Recipe: Spinach Salad with Japanese Ginger Dressing

Popeye was really onto something when he loaded up on cans of spinach! This dark leafy green is one of the ultimate superfoods. One cup of cooked spinach offers 6mg of your daily iron recommendation, and is an excellent source of a host of other essential nutrients.

Spinach is loaded with fiber, vitamins A, C and K, calcium, magnesium and about a dozen other vitamins and minerals. If you're not a fan of the flavor, try spinach in a smoothie—we promise you won't even taste it.

Related: 6 Foods with More Vitamin C Than an Orange

5. Lentils

Featured Recipe: Slow-Cooker Morroccan Lentil Soup

Lentils have been a diet staple for cultures around the globe, and these nutrient-rich legumes are finally getting some of the recognition they deserve in the U.S. A mere half-cup of cooked lentils offers 3mg of iron—about 20% of your daily recommendation—plus the protein-fiber combo we need to stay satisfied long after the meal is over.

Lentils are also rich in folate, manganese, phosphorus and potassium, making a great addition to your post-workout meal. We love them in soups, curries and salads, but if you don't like the flavor, you can do like the spinach-haters do and add them into your morning smoothie as well. Trust us, lentils make a great addition.

6. Tofu

Featured Recipe: Thai Tofu & Vegetable Curry with Zucchini Noodles

If you're still turning up your nose to tofu, you may want to reconsider. Restaurants are serving up delicious tofu dishes like never before, and it's such a versatile protein to cook with at home. This little plant protein has 3mg in just a half-cup serving.

Whether you prefer tofu in a more traditional stir-fry or are willing to experiment with our delicious Tofu Parmesan, we have a recipe for you. This soybean-based protein is also a good source of selenium, manganese, phosphorus and both calcium and magnesium when fortified.

Related: How Healthy Is Soy Really?

7. Blackstrap Molasses

Featured Recipe: Carob Molasses Cake (Sfouf b' Debs)

You may have heard about people who swallow a spoonful of molasses every day, and it's most likely for the iron benefits. Just a tablespoon of this sticky sweetener packs almost 3mg of iron, plus more than 10% of your daily calcium and potassium needs.

Molasses is most commonly used in baking, giving gingerbread cookies their iconic color. We think a spoonful of sugar helps the molasses go down and advise using it in your baking endeavors instead of ingesting a spoonful every day!

Related: 4 Natural Energy Boosters: What to Drink and Eat for More Energy, Naturally

8. Cereals & Oatmeal

Featured Recipe: Peanut Butter Protein Overnight Oats

Many foods in our grocery stores are fortified to help us meet our nutritional guidelines, and cereals are a top choice. Oats are already rich in iron, containing about 10% in just a half-cup serving, but that is often doubled if you're reaching for a fortified product. Other popular cereals like Cheerios, Raisin Bran, Grape-Nuts and Shredded Wheat can pack up to 90% of your daily needs in a serving.

Related:

Iron-Rich Recipes

10 Foods with More Protein Than an Egg

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