Iron is an essential mineral used to transport oxygen to all parts of our body. A slight deficiency of iron causes anemia (fatigue/weakness), and a chronic deficiency can lead to organ failure. Conversely, too much iron leads to the production of harmful free radicals and interferes with metabolism causing damage to organs like the heart and liver. Iron which comes from fruits and vegetables is well regulated by the body so overdose is rare and usually only occurs when people take supplements.
Contrary to popular belief, fruits and vegetables can be a good source of iron, in addition, vitamin C foods,
which are mostly fruits and vegetables, help increase the absorption of iron into the body. Fruits and vegetables high in iron include dried fruits, dark leafy greens, podded peas, asparagus, button mushrooms, acorn squash, leeks, dried coconut, green beans, and raspberries.
The current daily value (%DV) for iron is 18 milligrams (mg).
Other fruit high in iron (%DV per cup): Peaches (36%), Prunes & Currants (26%), Raisins (24%), Pears (21%), Figs (17%), and Apples (7%). Note: Dried fruit is high in sugar and calories.
Complete Nutrition Facts.
2. Dark Leafy Greens (Spinach)
1 cup (180g)
200 calories (870g)
36% DV (6mg)
172% DV (31mg)
20% DV (4mg)
Other Greens High in Iron (%DV per cup): Cooked Swiss Chard (22%), Cooked Turnip Greens (16%), Raw Kale (6%), and Raw Beet Greens (5%).
Complete Nutrition Facts.
Factors which Affect Iron Absorption and Retention
The most important factor is your existing iron level. A low iron level will increase absorption, while a high iron level willdecrease absorption. In general, you absorb 10-15% of the iron from foods.2
Vitamin C will increase the absorption of nonheme iron by as much as 85%.2,3
Tannins, oxalates, polyphenols, and phytates found in tea and coffee can reduce the absorption of non-heme iron by up to 65%. Black tea reduces absorption more than green tea and coffee.2,3,4
The following teas and beverages also inhibit iron absorption: Peppermint tea, penny royal, cocoa, vervain, lime flower, chamomile, and most other herbal teas with polyphenols.4
Calcium, polyphenols, and phytates found in legumes, whole grains, and chocolate can reduce absorption of nonheme iron.
Some protein from soy products may inhibit nonheme iron absorption.2
Calcium, milk, and antacids can inhibit absorption of iron supplements.5
High fiber foods, such as whole grains, raw vegetables, and bran can inhibit absorption of iron supplements.5
Foods or drinks with caffeine can inhibit absorption of iron supplements.5
High Risk Groups for an Iron Deficiency
Menstruating Women - Due to blood loss during menstruation women of childbearing age are at risk of iron deficiency, the greater the blood loss the greaterthe risk.
Individuals with Kidney Failure - People with kidney failure, andespecially those on dialysis, are at high risk of iron deficiency anemia.This is due to an inability of the kidney to create adequate amounts of the hormone erythropoietin which is necessary for red blood cell creation, and therefore, retaining iron.
Pregnant and lactating women - A developing fetus requires a high amount of iron,likewise, there is a high amount of iron lost through breast milk after birth.
Older infants and toddlers
People with low levels of Vitamin A - Vitamin A greatly helps move iron from storage in the body, without adequate amounts of vitamin A the body cannot regulate iron properly leading to an iron deficiency.
People with gastrointestinal disorders -Diarrhea, ulcers, and other gastrointestinal disorders and diseases can leadto an inadequate iron absorption.