10 foods surprisingly high in iron

dark chocolate rich in iron

About 1 in 2 pregnant women suffer from iron-deficiency anemia. Even if you’re not pregnant, iron-deficiency anemia affects about 1 in 20 women due to heavy blood loss during their monthly periods.

For most women who suffer from iron-deficiency anemia, the words “get more iron” are all too familiar. And while there is a role for iron supplements, there’s also a lot you can do with your diet to boost your absorbable iron intake.

What is absorbable iron?

To start with, there are two types of iron and they are both absorbed very differently by your body. There are also foods to avoid because they block your body’s ability to absorb iron and there are foods to eat more of because they increase your body’s ability to absorb iron.

Heme vs non-heme iron

Heme iron is absorbed more effectively by your body. Heme iron is found only in animal meat and the best sources are grass-fed beef, chicken liver, seafood, turkey and chicken (in that order).  

Non-heme is found in plants, eggs and dairy products. Your body has to convert non-heme iron into heme iron before it can use it for the production of hemoglobin in red blood cells. Hemoglobin is what carries oxygen around in your blood and not having enough of it can cause you to feel tired and fatigued.

It’s good to note that gram for gram, vegetables have a higher concentration of iron, even compared to meat. However, vegetables contain non-heme iron so you have to be more intentional about eating more plant sources of iron to get the same amount of absorbable iron as meat. Despite this, it is still possible to get your recommended daily intake (RDI) of iron from plant sources, especially when eaten with the right foods (check out the next section).


10 foods surprisingly high in iron


1.     Spirulina – 1 oz contains 8mg iron (44% RDI)

2.     Tofu or tempeh – 6 oz contains 3.6mg iron (20% RDI)

3.     Oats – 1 cup, cooked oats contain 3.4 mg iron (19% RDI)

4.     Lentils – ½ cup contains 3.3mg iron (20% RDI)

5.     Dark chocolate – 1 oz contains 3.3 mg iron (19% RDI)

6.     Spinach – ½ cup cooked spinach contains 3.2 mg iron (18% RDI)

7.     Potatoes – 1 large, unpeeled potato contains 3.2mg iron (18% RDI)

8.     Garbanzo beans or hummus – ½ cup contains 3mg iron (17% RDI)

9.     Quinoa – 1 cup, cooked contains 2.8mg iron (16% RDI)

10.  Mushrooms – 1 cup, cooked white mushrooms contains 2.7mg iron (15% RDI)


How to increase your iron intake

Did you know that your body is better able to absorb iron when you get foods rich in Vitamin C in the same meal? It might sound strange, but during my first pregnancy I craved burgers and I would eat an orange straight afterwards. I guess it was my body’s way of absorbing more iron! Other foods rich in Vitamin C include bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli and kiwi fruit, so try and include more of these foods into your diet if you’re anemic.

Unlike Vitamin C, caffeine has the opposite effect; it hinders your body’s ability to absorb iron. If you have an iron-rich meal, avoid having a coffee or tea for at least 2 hours. The same applies with taking your prenatal supplement. I try and avoid having a tea for at least 2 hours after I’ve taken my prenatal supplement, so my body’s ability to absorb the iron is increased.  

Caffeine during pregnancy

i love coffee

Coffee: to drink, or not to drink?

When it comes to coffee, many experts agree that drinking about one cup of coffee - or less than 200mg of caffeine per day - will not affect your pregnancy

A good thing to remember is that, the longer you brew coffee, the more caffeine it has. Filter coffee has more caffeine than espresso because it takes less than 30 seconds to make an espresso but a few minutes to brew filter coffee.

It’s also good to remember that a latté or cappuccino in the US has two shots of espresso in it, which is about 150 mg of caffeine. In Australia and some European countries, lattés and cappuccinos usually have one shot of espresso in them.

The standard cup of coffee, tea or cola has this much caffeine...

how much coffee

Three reasons to limit your caffeine intake during pregnancy

1.     It makes you pee more

If you’re already pacing back and forth to the ladies, reducing your caffeine might be a good idea. Caffeine is a diuretic so it increases the production of urine so you’ll have to pee more. If you feel you pee excessively, try added a pinch of sea salt to your water bottle for added electrolytes. 

2.     It stops your body from absorbing certain nutrients

 Caffeine can also hinder nutrient absorption. For example, caffeine blocks the absorption of iron and calcium when consumed at the same time. If you drink coffee or tea, it's best to wait at least an hour before or after your tea or coffee before you take your prenatal supplement to improve its effectiveness.

3.      It can make your boobs more tender

Research has found that lowering your caffeine intake may also help with breast tenderness in the early stages of pregnancy. So, experiment with cutting out or lowering your caffeine intake if sore boobs are making you miserable.

But, I still need caffeine!

If you want a lower, steadier dose of caffeine, try black or green tea. Some black tea may contain a similar amount of caffeine to coffee, but the caffeine in tea is absorbed at a much slower rate so you don’t get that same caffeine-high (and crash, a few hours later), that you can get with coffee.

Caffeine-free alternatives

Rooibos, peppermint and chamomile teas are herbal teas generally regarded as safe for pregnancy. Be mindful about herbal teas during your pregnancy because some herbs have negative side-effects such as uterine cramping or bleeding. These herbs include St John’s Wort, Don Quai, Ginseng, Pennyroyal, Licorice Root, Yarrow and Ephedra. Check out the full list from the American Pregnancy Association if you’d like more info.