Whether you’re a vegetarian or a meat-eater, most of us could use more iron in our diets.  

By Lauren Wicks
January 31, 2019
Photo: Jennifer Causey

Getting enough iron each day can be difficult, especially for women. Adult females need 18mg of iron per day until they are 51, while adult men only need 8mg per day. Iron is essential for blood production, a functioning metabolism, and transferring oxygen throughout the body. Without enough, one can become anemic. While a big steak can certainly be a heavy-duty way to boost your iron intake, there are plenty of other options with more iron than a standard 3-oz. serving of beef.

Oysters

Photo: Charles Masters

Oysters are famous for ramping up your love life, but they’re also loaded with some important, tough-to-obtain nutrients. These little bivalves pack almost half of your daily iron needs in just one serving, and are also an excellent source of immunity-boosting zinc. Whether you enjoy your oysters cooked or raw, squeezing a little lemon juice helps your body to better absorb iron.

View Recipe: Smoked Oysters With Olive Relish

White Beans

Caitlin Bensel

White beans are the only true vegetarian source of iron that can match oyster’s high iron concentration, packing 44 percent of your daily needs per cup. Beans are an excellent source of protein, fiber, and plenty of important vitamins and minerals. One of the wonderful things about beans is their versatility, and adding a cup of these to your meals with help keep you full for hours.

View Recipe: Slow-Cooker Tuscan White Bean Soup

Dark Chocolate

Jennifer Causey

Chocolate lovers, rejoice! Dark chocolate is an excellent source of iron, and 3 oz. of dark chocolate containing 45-69 percent cacao packs in almost 40 percent of your daily iron needs. Besides impacting your iron levels, dark chocolate has also been shown to improve heart health, reduce risk of diabetes, and even reduce stress. However, Harvard researchers suggest purchasing dark chocolate made of 70 percent cacao or more to obtain the full benefits.

View Recipe: Spicy Dark Chocolate and Tahini Bark

Lentils

Aaron Kirk

Lentils are a nutrient powerhouse, loaded with protein, fiber, and a whole range of micronutrients, one of them being iron. Just a half-cup serving of lentils packs almost 20 percent of your daily iron needs. If you’re not used to eating lentils or don’t know where to start, they are a great addition to soups and stews, curries, and even burgers. You can even boil some lentils with pasta to give your meal a nutrient boost.

View: One-Pot Vegetarian Lentil Chili

Looking for more ways to boost your nutrient intake?

Tofu

Photo: Jennifer Causey

We’re pretty sure no one has neutral feelings about tofu—you either love it or hate it. But if you cook and prepare tofu the right way, it can be a delicious and healthy meat alternative. Tofu is full of so many essential nutrients, and just a half-cup serving packs almost 20 percent of our daily iron needs. It can be a delicious replacement for eggs at breakfast or for chicken at dinner.

View Recipe: Szechuan Tofu With Cauliflower

Spinach

Photo: Caitlin Bensel

Thanks to Popeye, we know plants are a good source of iron—just one cup of cooked spinach packs over one-third of your daily needs. At about 40 calories, one cup of spinach is also an excellent source of fiber, Vitamin A, magnesium, and many other vitamins and minerals. If you don’t like greens, you can throw a handful or two into your morning smoothie for a sneaky nutrition boost.

View Recipe: One-Pot Pasta With Spinach And Tomatoes

Oatmeal

Photo: Greg Dupree

A bowl of oatmeal does so much more than warm you up on a chilly day. Oatmeal is loaded with nutrients, and just a half-cup can boost your iron intake by 10 percent. Oats are one of those high-carb foods dieticians say you should eat because they are full of fiber and plant protein, and can improve heart health.

View Recipe: Granola Cups With Yogurt and Berries

Blackstrap Molasses

Jennifer Causey

Just a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses gives you over 10 percent of your daily iron needs. Blackstrap molasses is also a good source of calcium and potassium. While it tastes more like medicine than a spoonful of sugar going down, some women especially choose to start their day with a tablespoon to boost their iron intake. We prefer to use molasses in our favorite recipes!

View Recipe: Molasses Crinkle Cookies