What Is Iron?


Even though iron is widely available in food, many people still don’t get the amount they need on a daily basis. Iron's main purpose is to carry oxygen in the hemoglobin of red blood cells throughout your body so cells can produce energy. Iron also helps remove carbon dioxide. When levels of iron are low, fatigue, weakness and difficulty maintaining body temperature often result.

Iron in food exists as two types, heme and non-heme. Animal foods such as meat, fish and poultry provide heme, which is used most effectively by your body. Non-heme is found in plant foods such as spinach and beans and isn't as well absorbed.

How much iron do you need? While your body is very good at adapting to lower or higher levels of iron by absorbing more or less, respectively, the recommended levels are set to meet the needs of the greater majority of the population. Here are the current DRIs for iron consumption:



Iron DRI  


11 mg

Males/19 +

8 mg


15 mg


18 mg

Females/51 +

8 mg


You can enhance your iron intake by choosing a variety of animal and plant foods. Vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron in plant foods (especially important for vegetarians). By consuming a variety of foods, you will ensure iron will be available when you need it.

Iron-rich foods include:
Non-heme Iron 

  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Dark green vegetables
  • Dried beans like kidney, black and lentils
  • Enriched rice

Heme Iron 

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Salmon

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