This information describes how to take in the amount of iron your body needs to stay healthy.

Iron is an essential mineral that your body needs to create red blood cells, which store and carry oxygen throughout your body. Iron is also part of many proteins and enzymes that help you stay healthy.

Iron Deficiency Anemia

If your body isn't getting enough iron, you can develop iron deficiency anemia. This can happen if you:
  • Don't have enough iron in your diet
  • Have had chemotherapy
  • Have had radiation therapy
  • Have a chronic illness
  • Have lost some of your blood, such as during surgery or an accident

Your Daily Intake of Iron

The National Academy of Sciences recommends certain amounts of iron based on your age and sex
(chart below). If your iron level is low, your healthcare provider may prescribe an iron supplement to get your iron level to return to normal quickly. The amount of iron he or she recommends may be higher than what you see in the table below.

Common side effects of taking higher amounts of iron include stomach irritation and constipation. Tell your healthcare provider if you experience these or any other problems while taking iron. Do not take iron supplements without checking with your healthcare provider.

Recommended Daily Iron Intake
Age
Males
Females
7 to 12 months
11 mg
11 mg
1 to 3 years
7 mg
7 mg
4 to 8 years
10 mg
10 mg
9 to 13 years
8 mg
8 mg
14 to 18 years
11 mg
15 mg
19 to 50 years
8 mg
18 mg
51 years and older
8 mg
8 mg

Reading Food Labels

To help maintain a healthy iron level, you should eat foods that are rich in iron. On food labels, iron is listed as a percent of the daily value (DV), which is 18 milligrams (mg). Figure 1 is an example of a food label. If a food label says it provides 50% of the DV for iron, then that food contains 9 mg of iron per serving size.
  • If the food has 5% or less of the DV, it is a poor source of iron.
  • If the food has 10% to 19% of the DV, it is a good source of iron.
  • Any foods that have 20% or more of the DV are high in iron.
Figure 1: Food label Figure 1: Food label

Label source: US Food and Drug Administration

Helping Your Body Absorb Iron

Iron from animal sources, called heme iron, is easiest for your body to absorb. Iron in nonanimal foods, called nonheme iron, is more difficult for your body to absorb.

You can help your body increase iron absorption by doing the following:

  • Combine foods or supplements that have iron with foods rich in vitamin C, such as oranges and other citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, and strawberries.
  • Eat both animal and nonanimal sources of iron.
  • Cook high-iron foods in cast iron pans.
  • If your healthcare provider prescribes iron supplements, ask if you should take 2 or 3 small doses instead of one larger dose. The amount of iron your body can absorb decreases as the dose increases.
  • Avoid doing the following, which can decrease your body's absorption of iron:
  • Consuming large amounts of coffee or tea with foods that are high in iron
  • Having more than 30 grams of fiber a day
  • Consuming calcium-rich foods such as dairy products or calcium-fortified juices at the same time as
    iron-rich foods

Choosing Foods With Iron

Animal Sources
Amount of Iron
Clams, 3 ounces
24 mg
Oysters, 3 ounces
10 mg
Beef liver, 3 ounces
6 mg
Chicken liver, 3 ounces
7 mg
Kidney, 3 ounces
6 mg
Mussels, 3 ounces
5.7 mg
Anchovies, 3 ounces
3 mg
Beef (rump roast, shank, bottom round, sirloin),
3 ounces
2.5 mg
Scallops, 3 ounces
2.6 mg
Shrimp, 3 ounces
2 mg
Lamb (shank roast,
loin chops), 3 ounces
1.9 mg
Turkey (dark meat), 3 ounces
1.3 mg
Turkey (light meat), 3 ounces
1 mg
Pork (sirloin cutlet, loin roast, or chops), 3 ounces
1 mg
Chicken (dark meat), 3 ounces
0.9 mg
Chicken (light meat), 3 ounces
0.7 mg
Salmon, 3 ounces
0.6 mg
Egg, 1 large
0.3 mg
Cod, 3 ounces
0.3 mg
 
Nonanimal Sources
Amount of Iron
Fortified cereals, such as Grapenuts®, ½ cup, Product 19®, ¾ cup, or Total®, 1 cup
18 mg
Cream of Wheat®, ¾ cup
8.2 mg
Oatmeal, 1 packet plain
6.7 mg
Molasses (blackstrap),
1 tablespoon
5 mg
Lentils, ½ cup
3.3 mg
Cooked spinach, ½ cup
3.2 mg
Baked potato, 1 medium
2.7 mg
Kidney beans, ½ cup
2.6 mg
Wheat germ, 1 ounces (¼ cup)
2.6 mg
Peaches (dried), 5 halves
2.6 mg
Chickpeas, ½ cup
2.4 mg
Lima beans, ½ cup
2.1 mg
Broccoli, 1 medium stalk
2.1 mg
Pistachio nuts, 1 ounces
1.9 mg
Sunflower seeds, 1 ounces
1.9 mg
Cashew nuts, 1 ounces
1.7 mg
Black beans, ½ cup
1.8 mg
Raisins, ½ cup
1.5 mg
Strawberries, 1 cup frozen
1.2 mg
Figs (dried), 1
0.4 mg

Speak with a Dietitian

If you have any questions or concerns about your diet while you are in the hospital, ask to see a dietitian. If you have already been discharged and have brief questions, call (212) 639-7312. You can make an appointment to see a dietitian by calling (212) 639-7071.