What Iron is Good For?

Common Name: European elder, black elder, elder, elderberry, elder flower, sambucus.

Making hemoglobin in blood and myoglobin in muscle, which supply oxygen to cells.

Where you get Iron: Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, whole and enriched grains, and green leafy vegetables.

The best food sources of easily absorbed iron are animal products, which contain heme iron. Iron from vegetables, fruits, grains and supplements (non-heme iron) is harder for the body to absorb. If you mix some lean meat, fish, or poultry with beans or dark leafy greens at a meal, you can improve absorption of vegetable sources of iron up to three times. Foods rich in vitamin C also increase iron absorption.

Herbs and spices that contain iron are black pepper, cayenne, cinnamon, chili, ginger, mustard seed, turmeric, sage, thyme, cumin, coriander, dill, allspice, fennel, fenugreek, basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, peppermint, curry, garlic, paprika, salt, nutmeg, cardamom, tarragon, anise, savory, saffron, parlsey and chervil. (Source: Nutrition Data)

Iron in Food

Some foods decrease iron absorption. Commercial black or pekoe teas contain substances that bind to iron so it cannot be used by the body.

Consider the amount absorbable iron in a food, not just the total iron content. Iron sources that have high iron availability include the following

  • Oysters
  • Liver
  • Lean red meat (especially beef)
  • Poultry, dark red meat
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Iron-fortified cereals
  • Dried beans
  • Whole grans
  • Eggs (especially egg yolks)
  • Dried fruits
  • Dark leafy green vegetables
  • Reasonable amounts of iron are also found in lamb, pork, and shellfish.

Non-heme iron is found in the following.

Whole Grains

  • Wheat
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Brown Rice


  • Lima Beans
  • Soybeans
  • Dried beans and peas
  • Kidney beans


Dried Fruits


Tips for getting more iron in your diet:

  • Cook in cast-iron pots and skillets. It sounds silly, but it works!
  • Eat foods high in Vitamin C helps absorb iron.
  • Try eating foods such as walnuts, pistachio nuts, and spinach.
  • If you are a vegetarian, pay careful attention to iron levels – iron deficiency is common among vegetarians.

Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency is uncommon among adult men and postmenopausal women. These individuals should only take iron supplements when prescribed by a physician because of their greater risk of iron overload. Iron overload is a condition in which excess iron is found in the blood and stored in organs such as the liver and heart. Iron overload is associated with several genetic diseases.

Note: Iron supplements even in small amounts can be toxic to young children. Keep iron and multivitamins with iron out of reach.

Quick Iron Quiz

True or False: Women and men need equal amounts of iron.

Answer: False first, true later. (Say what?)
Because iron accumulates in the blood, men need less than premenopausal women. Men should consume 8 milligrams daily; premenopausal women need 18. (One in five women and half of all pregnant women are iron deficient.) After menopause, women need only 8 milligrams, equaling the male need.

Read More: Essential Nutrients