Iron-rich Foods and Anemia

Overview

What is iron?

Iron is a mineral in the human body. It is one of the components of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that helps blood carry oxygen throughout the body.

If you do not have enough iron, your body cannot make hemoglobin. If this happens, you may develop anemia, a disorder that occurs when there is not enough hemoglobin in the blood. When you develop anemia, you are said to be “anemic.”

Symptoms and Causes

What are the causes of anemia?

The most common cause of anemia is low levels of iron. This is known as iron-deficiency anemia, the most common type. Anyone can develop iron-deficiency anemia, although the following groups have a greater risk:

  • Women, because of blood loss during monthly periods and childbirth
  • People over 65, who are more likely to have diets that are low in iron
  • People who are on blood thinners such as aspirin, Plavix®, Coumadin® or heparin
  • People who have kidney failure (especially if they are on dialysis), because they have trouble making red blood cells
  • People who have trouble absorbing iron

Management and Treatment

Can iron-deficiency anemia be treated?

Yes. This type of anemia can be treated and cured. First, your healthcare provider will determine if the anemia is being caused by a poor diet or by a more serious health problem. Then you can be treated for both the anemia and its cause. Iron-deficiency anemia can be treated with iron supplements taken by mouth, or by eating foods that are high in iron.

What foods are high in iron?

The iron in food comes from two sources: animals and plants. Iron from animal sources is known as heme iron and is found in meat and fish. Iron from plants is known as nonheme iron, and is found in certain vegetables and in iron-fortified foods such as breakfast cereals. Heme iron is better absorbed by the body than nonheme iron.

The following foods are good sources of heme iron (from animal sources):

  • Chicken liver
  • Oysters
  • Clams
  • Beef liver
  • Beef (chuck roast, lean ground beef)
  • Turkey leg
  • Tuna
  • Eggs
  • Shrimp
  • Leg of lamb

The following foods are good sources of nonheme iron (from plants):

  • Raisin bran (enriched)
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Beans (kidney, lima, Navy)
  • Tofu
  • Lentils
  • Molasses
  • Spinach
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Peanut butter
  • Brown rice

Try to combine nonheme iron foods with vitamin C (for example, a glass of orange juice) to increase absorption of iron.

Talk to your healthcare provider to determine how much iron you need every day.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/26/2017.

References

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy