Iron-rich foods: How to meet your daily iron requirements

Sebastian Grimm | 06.09.2021

Iron-rich foods: How to meet your daily iron requirements


Iron is one of the most important trace elements. Among other things, it is responsible for blood formation and the absorption of oxygen. Iron-rich foods help you to cover your daily iron requirements. This also works with a vegan diet or during a phase of life with increased iron requirements.


How well can humans absorb iron?

The trace element iron is absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract through iron-containing foods. However, this absorption capacity, also known as bioavailability, is limited: Only five to fifteen per cent of the supplied substance is absorbed. The rest is excreted again unprocessed.

There are different types of iron, which are sometimes better and sometimes worse absorbed. The more effective haem iron is found in meat, fish, seafood and offal. It is absorbed about three times better than plant iron. The latter is usually less concentrated and more difficult for the digestive tract to process. Nevertheless, it is also possible for vegans and vegetarians to meet their daily iron requirements with a balanced diet containing iron-rich foods.


Those who are often tired could suffer from an iron deficiency

Not everyone needs the same amount of iron. Instead, the need depends on various factors such as the person’s gender and age. Healthy women up to the age of 50 should consume 15 milligrams of iron per day, and for men the guideline is 10 milligrams. The iron requirement increases during pregnancy and growth phases.

If the body does not get enough iron from food or if the intestine does not absorb enough of the trace element, a deficiency can occur. It manifests itself, among other things, in fatigue and reduced performance, but also in brittle hair or nails and cracked corners of the mouth. Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia and therefore requires treatment.

Fortunately, people in Europe rarely suffer from iron deficiency, partly because the level is checked frequently and supplements are taken if necessary. After operations or heavy menstrual bleeding, for example, there can be a loss of iron that cannot be compensated for by food. Poor nutrition and chronic diseases can also be reasons for iron deficiency. In such cases, it is best to consult a specially trained doctor who can check your levels and prescribe a suitable therapy in which iron is deliberately supplemented.


Nine iron-rich foods – a brief overview

1. liver:

Duck liver is probably the most effective source of iron, containing up to 30 milligrams per 100 grams. Besides iron, liver also contains folic acid and vitamin A, which has additional health benefits. Meanwhile, the consumption of internal organs from animals is widely considered safe.


2. pumpkin seeds:

Not only as a topping on a roll, but also in a salad or as a snack in between meals, pumpkin seeds cut a good figure. 100 grams of these healthy seeds contain 12 milligrams of iron. Thus, just a handful covers a large amount of the daily iron requirement.


3. sesame seeds:

People in Europe tend to underestimate the health-promoting effect of sesame seeds – and their taste. However, the seeds not only contain 10 milligrams of iron per 100 grams, but also valuable zinc and vitamin E. They are especially good in baked goods. They are particularly popular in baked goods.


4. legumes:

The most iron-rich legumes are soybeans, which score with a content of 8.6 milligrams per 100 grams. The same applies to lentils and peas. However, these foods contain phytic acid, which can easily reverse the positive effect, at least when eaten raw.


5. flaxseed:

Most people know flax seeds as a vegan salad topping or as a home remedy for digestive problems. But they are also considered a reliable source of iron with a content of 8.2 milligrams. Due to their relatively neutral taste, linseeds can easily be stirred into yoghurts or breakfast cereals.


6. quinoa:

Recently, quinoa has become increasingly popular, which is probably primarily due to the fact that the food is gluten-free. Many people use the seeds as an alternative to rice or pasta. With an iron content of 8 milligrams per 100 grams, they also have a positive effect on the body.


7. pistachios:

For a long time, pistachios have been considered the healthier, albeit more expensive, alternative to the evening crisps snack. Per 100 grams they contain 7.5 milligrams of iron and a large amount of unsaturated fatty acids. When shopping, however, be aware that commercially available pistachios are often heavily salted – and that negates the health-promoting effect.


8. chanterelles:

These foods can be an effective source of iron with 6.5 milligrams per 100 grams. This value increases additionally if the chanterelles are eaten dried. Unfortunately, not all types of mushrooms are equally rich in iron – mushrooms contain only one milligram of iron per 100 grams.


9. wheat bran and oatmeal:

These two foods contain 4.6 milligrams of iron per 100 grams. They are especially good for breakfast and give you a morning energy boost. Caution: Wheat bran should not be eaten raw.


Optimal absorption: Nutrition tips for iron

In order for iron to be optimally absorbed, an acidic environment must be ensured that promotes the absorption of iron. Combine foods that contain a lot of citrus or lactic acid with iron-rich foods. For example, you can serve pepper sticks or tomatoes as a side dish for dinner, add a dash of lemon juice to the dressing for your salad, and a glass of orange juice looks good for breakfast. If you like muesli or yoghurt, you can mix in fruit, because vitamin C also supports the absorption of iron.

However, there are also foods that inhibit iron absorption. This effect is caused, for example, by the following substances:

– Polyphenols and tannins (contained in black tea or coffee),

– Oxalic acid (contained in spinach or rhubarb),

– Phytic acid (contained in cereals and pulses, which themselves have a high iron content).

You can avoid this effect by not drinking coffee or black tea for at least half an hour before eating or taking iron supplements. Pulses and cereals can easily be soaked, as they then lose the phytates that inhibit iron absorption.


Conclusion: Iron-rich foods for health

Foods high in iron help the body to form blood and absorb oxygen. However, there are different types of iron: the animal substance will have a much better bioavailability than iron from plant sources. If you nevertheless prefer a plant-based diet, highly concentrated plant-based preparations, such as ours from Nature Basics, make a lot of sense. Especially if you consider that the body can only absorb a small part of the actual amount of iron. Covering the basic supply with a plant-based and sustainable iron supplement saves you a lot of time and thought about sufficient iron supply accordingly. In addition, there are various foods that inhibit or enhance the absorption of iron, which should also be considered when taking iron supplements. Pregnant women and people in growth should pay particular attention to their iron intake.

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