Home Healthy Eating Iron-rich foods: How to meet your iron needs

Iron-rich foods: How to meet your iron needs

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 347 views

Iron is an essential trace element that you must get from food. The iron content is particularly high in animal foods. But some plant-based foods are also good suppliers. Read here how you can best meet your daily iron requirements and what you should definitely pay attention to.

Which foods contain a lot of iron?

Basically, iron is contained in almost every food – but the content varies. Animal foods such as meat and sausages are at the top. When it comes to plant-based foods, legumes, green vegetables and various grain products are particularly suitable for meeting your daily iron requirements. However, the body cannot utilize vegetable iron as well as animal iron.

The foods with the highest iron content include (calculated per 100 grams):

  • Black pudding (29.4 mg)
  • Pork liver (18.0 mg)
  • Wheat Bran (16.0 mg)
  • Beef Ham (9.8mg)
  • Soybeans, dried (9.7 mg)
  • Hirseflocken (9.0 mg)
  • Lentils, dried (8.0 mg)
  • Wheat Germ (7.6 mg)
  • White beans, dried (7.0 mg)
  • Chickpeas, dried (6.1 mg)
  • Oysters and mussels (5.8 mg each)
  • Egg yolk (5.5 mg)

For some years now, supermarkets have also been selling foods that have been specially fortified with iron, such as breakfast cereals. However, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) advises against it. According to the current state of knowledge, a permanent oversupply of iron increases the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Difference between plant and animal iron

A distinction is made between two types of iron:

  • heme iron. Only found in animal foods. Bivalent iron is also mentioned.
  • non-heme iron. It is found in both animal and plant foods. It is also referred to as trivalent iron.

The human body uses heme iron two to three times better than non-heme iron. This is because heme iron can be directly absorbed by the intestines. Non-heme iron, on the other hand, must first be converted.

Basically, however, only a small part of the iron in the food can be absorbed through the intestines at all – experts speak of the so-called bioavailability. Heme iron has a bioavailability of 14 to 18 percent, non-heme iron 5 to 12 percent.

If your need for iron is low or your iron stores are already sufficiently full, you will automatically absorb less iron from food – and vice versa. If the iron stores are almost empty, the intake increases by a factor of two to three.

How much iron do you need a day?

How much iron you need per day depends on various factors. Among other things, how much urine you excrete and how often you have bowel movements affect your iron requirement. It also matters how much you sweat.

In women, the need for iron increases during menstruation and pregnancy . Children and adolescents also need more iron as they grow. According to the German Society for Nutrition, the following average recommendations apply:

  • Children: 8 milligrams
  • Adolescents aged 10 to 19: 12 milligrams in young men, 15 milligrams in young women
  • Men aged 19 and over: 10 milligrams
  • Women aged 19 and over: 15 milligrams
  • Women over 50 years: 10 milligrams
  • Pregnant women: 30 milligrams
  • Breastfeeding: 20 milligrams

The hemoglobin level indicates whether the iron level is okay. A value between 12 and 16 grams per deciliter of blood in women and between 13 and 18 grams in men is considered desirable. As a rule, healthy people in western industrialized nations get enough iron from their food. Iron deficiency usually occurs when there are diseases such as:

  • Gastric mucosal inflammation
  • digestive and absorption disorders
  • chronic diseases
  • Cancer
  • infections
  • surgical interventions

In addition, vegans and vegetarians are often in the lower normal range because they only consume plant-based iron. However, no physiological disadvantages such as anemia or poor performance have been shown in studies to date. There is therefore debate as to whether the current recommendations are too high.

Which iron-rich foods are suitable for babies?

Babies already have an iron reserve at birth. You also get iron from breast milk or infant formula. However, after four to six months, the iron reserves tend to run out. Then breast milk or substitute food are no longer sufficient.

Eight milligrams of iron per day is recommended for children four to twelve months old. Therefore, a baby from the fifth to seventh month of life should be given a meaty potato and vegetable porridge five times a week. If you feed your child a vegetarian diet, it is best to use grains and vegetables rich in iron, such as millet, oats, fennel, black salsify and broccoli .

Foods with iron – table

How much iron is in the different foods? In our table we show you a selection of animal and vegetable products.

meat and sausage Iron content in milligrams per 100 grams
blood sausage 29,4
pork liver 18
beef ham 9,8
calf liver 7,9
Liverwurst 3,3
venison 3
Body 2,5
beef 2,1
veal 2
Gans 1,9
lamb meat 1,8
pork meat 1,4
ham 1,1
Meatloaf & Lyoner 0,8
Chicken 0,7
Fish & Seafood
Oysters & Mussels 5,8
sardines in oil 2,5
crayfish 2
To scratch 1,8
mackerel 1,2
Lobster & Perch 1
Milk, Dairy Products & Eggs
egg yolk 5,5
2 Owner 1,8
processed cheese 0,9
Parmesan 0,7
soy milk 0,4
cut cheese 0,3
Cream cheese & soft cheese 0,2
milk & yoghurt 0,1
Grain products & bread products
wheat bran 16
Amaranth 9
Hirseflocken 9
Quinoa 8,8
wheat germ 7,6
Wholemeal crispbread with sesame 4,3
oatmeal 4,2
buckwheat 3,5
Pasta with egg 3
Pasta without egg 2,1
rye flour 1,7
brown rice 1,7
wheat flour 1,5
legumes, vegetables, potatoes
Soybeans, dried 9,7
Lentils, dried 8
White beans, dried 7
chanterelles 6,5
Chickpeas, dried 6,1
Tofu 5,4
Spinach 2,7
fennel 2
Peas 1,9
Rocket salad 1,5
Broccoli 1,4
garden cress 1,3
Cauliflower 1,1
lettuce 1
green beans 1
Mushrooms & Porcini 1
Fruit, Fruit Juices & Nuts
Apricots, dried 5,2
almonds 4,2
hazelnuts 3,7
grated coconut 3,5
dates 3
Figs, dried 2,5
Raisins, prunes 2,3
apples, dried 2
Black Currants 1,3
Mango 1,2
Avocado 1
blackberries 1
Which foods hinder iron absorption?

How well you absorb iron from food also depends on which substances the trace element is bound to. Among other things, milk and egg products, which contain a lot of calcium, impair iron absorption. This also applies to certain medicines such as various antibiotics and medicines used to treat osteoporosis.

Other inhibiting substances are:

lignin and phytates

Lignin and phytates are found in whole grain products, legumes and oilseeds. However, the phytate content can be reduced by soaking, grinding, heating, sprouting or fermenting.

oxalic acid

Oxalic acid is found in spinach, chard or rhubarb . It helps if you eat these foods with milk or cream. Dairy products bind oxalic acid to a certain extent. This makes it easier for the body to absorb iron.


Tannins from black tea, coffee or red wine also inhibit iron absorption. In this case, it is best to drink these drinks in moderation.

Which foods improve iron absorption?

Iron-boosting foods include:

  • Vitamin C. It is found in lemons, broccoli and peppers, among other things.
  • beta-carotene. Provitamin A is found, for example, in sweet potatoes, carrots, kale and spinach.
  • sulfur-containing amino acids. They can be found in onions and garlic, among other things .
  • organic acids. These include citric acid ( raspberries , kiwis, oranges) as well as lactic acid from fermented foods (tofu, tempeh , miso, sauerkraut).

It is particularly important for vegetarians and vegans to pay attention to these points, as they can increase the absorption of iron from plant-based foods.

It is also advisable to include these foods in your diet during pregnancy. This helps to cover the increased need of 30 milligrams of iron per day. Fast sources of iron are, for example, vitamin C-rich drinks such as orange and grapefruit juice.

Iron: Are Supplements Necessary?

Children and adolescents in the growth phase, women before menopause and during pregnancy have an increased need for iron. Vegans and vegetarians are also among the risk groups for iron deficiency.

Nevertheless, dietary supplements only make sense if there is an actual proven iron deficiency and after consultation with a doctor.

Signs of iron deficiency include:

  • cracked corners of the mouth
  • increased susceptibility to infection
  • disturbed hair and nail growth
  • cracked, dry and brittle skin

You can find out more about iron deficiency here .

A long-term, high-dose intake of iron supplements in healthy people can lead to a chronic oversupply, which may have a negative effect on the body. In addition, iron supplements often have side effects. These include abdominal pain, nausea and heartburn.

Why is iron important?

Iron is a vital trace element. Among other things, it is responsible for the transport of oxygen and plays an important role in the cellular energy supply and in the defense against infection.

The trace element must be ingested through food. Both an iron deficiency and an iron excess can severely disturb the organism and are sometimes associated with serious illnesses.

Here you can find out everything you need to know about iron .

You may also like

Leave a Comment