Iron in Your Diet
Iron is a vital mineral for health. Too little iron can cause iron deficiency anemia. This can
make you feel tired and increase your risk of illness or disease. Anemia is fairly common. It is
seen more often in toddlers, teenagers and the elderly.
Iron needs vary with age and gender. Your need for iron increases during growth periods
(pregnancy, infancy, childhood and teen years), and for women having menstrual periods. Pre-
term infants may also need more iron.
Amount of Iron Needed Daily
*Infants should receive an iron-fortified formula if they are not breastfed.
Forms of Dietary Iron
There are two types of iron:
ξ Heme iron comes from animal sources such as beef, pork, lamb, fish, chicken and
turkey. Your body absorbs heme iron better than non-heme iron.
ξ Non-heme iron is found in fortified grain products, beans, peas, eggs, and some fruits
and vegetables. Your body does not absorb non-heme iron as well as heme iron.
If you eat a vegetarian diet, you may need about twice as much iron in your diet than that of a
meat eater since your body does not absorb the non-heme iron as well. Vegetarians should try to
eat iron-rich foods at most meals.
Age Male Female
0–6 months < 1 mg* < 1 mg*
7–12 months 11 mg 11 mg
1–3 years 7 mg 7 mg
4–8 years 10 mg 10 mg
9–13 years 8 mg 8 mg Pregnancy
14–18 years 11 mg 15 mg 27 mg 10 mg
19–50 years 8 mg 18 mg 27 mg 9 mg
51+ years 8 mg 8 mg
Iron Content of Foods*
*These amounts are an estimate
To increase iron intake & absorption:
ξ Enjoy a number of iron-rich foods from
the tables at left. Aim for at least one
iron-rich food at each meal.
ξ Check the nutrition label on breakfast
cereals. Choose brands that have at least
30% of the Recommended Daily Value
ξ Add beans to soups, stews or casseroles.
ξ Have pasta with tomato sauce instead of
ξ Add dried fruit to cereal or your favorite
baked good recipe.
ξ Combine vitamin C-rich foods with iron-
rich foods. Vitamin C helps your body
absorb iron. This is even more important
ξ Avoid eating large amounts of calcium
with iron-rich foods. It’s okay to have
milk or calcium supplements at a
different time of the day.
ξ Use a cast iron skillet for cooking. Some
of the iron leaches into the food while
ξ Add blackstrap molasses to baked goods
to increase iron content.
ξ Coffee and tea may decrease the amount
of iron your body absorbs so have these
drinks after meals, not during.
Foods with Non-heme Iron mg Iron
Fortified breakfast cereal, 1 oz. 5-18
Instant oatmeal, 1 packet 4
Lentils, cooked, ½ cup 3
Spinach, cooked, ½ cup 3
Beans (kidney, black, pinto,
lima, white, garbanzo), ½ cup 2
Tofu, ½ cup 2
Edamame, ½ cup 2
Sunflower seeds, ¼ cup 2
Prune juice, ½ cup 2
Enriched bread, 1 slice 1
Enriched pasta, cooked, ½ cup 1
Enriched rice, cooked, ½ cup 1
Medium baked potato w/ skin 1
Green peas, cooked, ½ cup 1
Almonds or cashews, 1 oz. 1
Blackstrap molasses, 1 Tbsp. 1
Dried apricots, 5 halves 0.5
Raisins, 1 oz box 0.5
Foods with Heme Iron mg Iron
Oysters, 3 oz. 4
Beef, 3 oz. 2
Chicken, 3 oz. 1
Egg, 1 large 1
Pork or ham, 3 oz. 1
Tuna, 3 oz. 1
Salmon, 3 oz. 1
Food Sources of Vitamin C
Vitamin C foods help your body absorb iron if eaten at the same time as iron-rich foods.
Over 75 mg per ½ C. serving
Orange, kiwi, tomato juice
25-75 mg per ½ C. serving
Orange juice, grapefruit, pineapple, mango, papaya, strawberries, cantaloupe
Tomato, bell pepper, peapods, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage
Things to think about:
Women: Menstruating, very active or pregnant women may need a daily multivitamin-mineral
with 18 mg iron (more is needed for pregnant women). You should only take a greater amount of
iron if told to do so by your doctor. Large amounts of iron can be toxic.
Men: Men need less iron than women. Because it is easy to get the needed amount of iron from
food sources alone, iron pills are not often needed. If you choose to take a daily multivitamin-
mineral, be sure it provides no more than 10-11 mg iron. Large amounts of iron are toxic.
Infants who are not breastfeeding should receive iron-fortified infant formula. If born premature
or not taking solids by 6 months of age, your child may need an iron supplement. Talk to your
doctor. First foods for infants should be iron-fortified infant cereals or pureed meats. Toddlers
and preschool age children should drink no more than 24-32 oz milk per day because this can
decrease iron absorption and lead to anemia.
What is the most important thing you learned from this handout?
What changes will you make in your diet/lifestyle, based on what you learned today?
If you are a UW Health patient and have more questions please contact UW Health at one of the
phone numbers listed below. You can also visit our website at www.uwhealth.org/nutrition
Nutrition clinics for UW Hospital and Clinics (UWHC) and American Family Children’s
Hospital (AFCH) can be reached at: (608) 890-5500.
Nutrition clinics for UW Medical Foundation (UWMF) can be reached at:
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 12/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Clinical Nutrition Services Department and the Department
of Nursing. HF#182