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Iron Rich Diet

What is an iron-rich diet?

An iron-rich diet includes foods that are good sources of iron. People need extra iron during childhood, adolescence (teenage years), and pregnancy. Iron is a mineral that your body needs to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is part of your blood and helps carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. You may need to eat more iron-rich foods to treat or prevent a low blood iron level or iron deficiency anemia.

How much iron do I need each day?

  • Males:

    • 1 to 3 years old: 7 mg

    • 4 to 8 years old: 10 mg

    • 9 to 13 years old: 8 mg

    • 14 to 18 years old: 11 mg

    • 19 years and older: 8 mg

  • Females:

    • 1 to 3 years old: 7 mg

    • 4 to 8 years old: 10 mg

    • 9 to 13 years old: 8 mg

    • 14 to 18 years old: 15 mg

    • 19 to 50 years: 18 mg

    • Over 51 years old: 8 mg

    • Pregnant women: 27 mg

Which foods contain iron?

  • Meat, fish, and poultry are good sources of iron. They contain heme iron, a form of iron that your body absorbs very well. Fruit, vegetables, eggs, and grains such as pasta, rice, and cereal also contain iron. They contain nonheme iron, a form of iron that is not absorbed as well as heme iron. You can absorb more iron from these foods by eating a food that is high in vitamin C at the same time. You can also absorb more nonheme iron by eating a food from the meat, fish, and poultry group at the same time.

  • Fish and shellfish contain some mercury, a metal that can be harmful. Children and unborn babies are at higher risk for harm caused by mercury. Children and pregnant women should avoid eating fish high in mercury, such as shark and swordfish. They should also eat only fish that are lower in mercury, such as salmon, canned light tuna, and catfish. Limit the amount of low-mercury fish and shellfish you eat to less than 12 ounces per week.

What are some iron-rich foods?

  • Foods that contain 2 mg or more per serving:

    • 3 ounces of cooked beef (chuck, eye of round) or cooked turkey (dark meat)

    • ½ cup of beans (black, kidney, or lentil, or soybeans)

    • ½ cup of tofu

    • 1 medium baked potato

    • 1 cup of cooked artichoke or cooked spinach

    • ¾ cup of instant oatmeal

    • 1 cup of corn flakes

  • Foods that contain 1 to 2 mg per serving:

    • 3 ounces of chicken

    • 3 ounces of pork

    • 3 ounces of turkey (light meat)

    • 3 ounces of light tuna

    • ½ cup of seedless, packed raisins

    • 1 slice of whole-wheat or white bread

What are good sources of vitamin C?

Eat a serving of vitamin C with any iron-rich food to help your body absorb more iron. The following fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamin C:

  • 1 cup of fresh orange juice (124 mg) or pink grapefruit juice (83 mg)

  • 1 cup of strawberries (106 mg)

  • 1 cup of diced cantaloupe (68 mg)

  • 1 cup of sweet yellow pepper (283 mg)

  • 1 cup of fresh, boiled broccoli (116 mg) or cooked brussels sprouts (97 mg)

  • 1 cup of kale (53 mg)

  • 1 cup of tomato juice (45 mg)

What other guidelines should I follow?

  • Tea and coffee can decrease the amount of iron that your body absorbs from iron-rich foods. Drink coffee and tea separately from meals that contain iron-rich foods.

  • Children over the age of 1 year only need about 24 ounces of cow's milk each day. When children drink too much milk, they may eat fewer iron-rich foods. This may cause them to have a low level of iron in their blood.

What are the risks of not following an iron-rich diet?

If you do not include iron-rich foods and vitamin C in your diet every day, you may have low blood iron levels. This may lead to iron deficiency anemia, especially during periods when your body needs extra iron. Iron deficiency anemia may cause problems with your child's growth and development. If you have iron deficiency anemia, you may develop other health problems.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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