Iron in Your Diet

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
Back to top

Your Daily Intake of Iron

The National Academy of Sciences recommends certain amounts of iron based on your age and sex (see 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
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
Back to top

Reading Food Labels

Figure 1. Food label

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.
Back to top

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 foods high in iron in cast iron pans
  • If your healthcare provider prescribes iron supplements, ask if you should take 2 or 3 small doses instead of 1 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:

  • Drinking large amounts of coffee or tea with foods that are high in iron
  • Having more than 30 grams of fiber a day
  • Eating foods high in calcium, such as dairy products or calcium-fortified juices at the same time as foods high in iron
Back to top

Choosing Foods With Iron

Animal Sources
Amount of Iron
Beef, variety meats & byproducts, spleen, 3 ounces
33.5 mg
Chicken liver, 3 ounces
11.6 mg
Cuttlefish, 3 ounces
9.2 mg
Oysters, 3 ounces
7.8 mg
Mussels, 3 ounces
5.7 mg
Liverwurst spread, ¼ cup
4.9 mg
Queen crab, , 3 ounces
2.5 mg
Clams, 3 ounces
2.4 mg
Beef chuck, 3 ounces
2.4 mg
Beef (ground), 3 ounces
2.3 mg
Lamb, 3 ounces
1.5 mg
Canned anchovy, 1 ounce
1.31 mg
Chicken, 3 ounces
0.9 mg
Turkey drumstick, 3 ounces
0.9 mg
Pork, 3 ounces
0.8 mg
Egg, 1 large
0.8 mg
Salmon, 3 ounces
0.6 mg
Scallops, 3 ounces
0.5 mg
Turkey breast, 3 ounces
0.5 mg
Shrimp, 3 ounces 0.3 mg
Nonanimal Sources
Amount of Iron
Total®, ¾ cup
18 mg
Grapenuts®, ½ cup
16.2 mg
Multigrain Cheerios®,  ¾ cup
6.1 mg
Cream of Wheat®, ½ cup
6 mg
Sesame seeds, ¼ cup
5.2 mg
Fiber One®, ½ cup
4.5 mg
Raisin spice oatmeal, ¾ cup
4 mg
Dried apricots, ½ cup
3.8 mg
Wheat germ, ½ cup
3.6 mg
Lima beans, ½ cup
Mixed nuts, ½ cup
2.5 mg
Kidney beans, ½ cup
2.5 mg
Sunflower seeds, ½ cup
2.4 mg
Walnuts, ½ cup
2.0 mg
Cooked spinach, ½ cup
1.9 mg
Dark chocolate, 60-69%, 1 ounce
1.8 mg
Black beans, ½ cup
1.8 mg
Raisins, ½ cup
1.5 mg
Dried figs, ½ cup
1.5 mg
Chick peas, ½ cup
1.4 mg
Wheat bread, 1 slice
1 mg
Molasses, 1 tablespoon 1 mg
Back to top

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.

Back to top

Last Updated