Iron plays a crucial role in delivering oxygen throughout the body. If you don't get enough, you may develop iron deficiency. Meat is a good source of iron, but fruits and vegetables are another option for vegetarians or anyone who avoids meat.
Iron-Rich Fruits and Vegetables
The National Institutes of Health indicates foods which provide 20 percent or greater of a nutrient's Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) are a high source of that nutrient. Although healthy, most fruits, vegetables, and meats are not considered high in iron and fall short of this equation.
Some fruits and vegetables contain more iron than others. The following chart lists those that have the highest iron content. Many green vegetables have a higher iron content when cooked than raw. The nutritional values below come from Self Nutrition Data.
High-Iron Fruits and Vegetables
|Food Item||Iron Content||Ways to Use|
|Spinach, boiled (1 cup)||6.4mg||Mix with other leafy greens and drizzle with olive oil and seasoning|
|Lima beans, boiled (1/2 cup)||4.5mg||Boil and add fresh herbs, bake in casseroles or add to green salads|
|Swiss chard, boiled (1 cup)||4.0mg||Use in soups, stews|
|Potato, baked (1 large, baked with skin)||3.2mg||Mash or, eat whole topped with fresh, chopped herbs and/or vegetables|
|Prune juice (1 cup)||3.0mg||Drink alone or add to smoothies|
|Beet greens, boiled (1 cup)||2.7mg||Add to salads or eat with other leafy greens|
|Green peas, boiled (1/2 cup)||2.5mg||Boil and top with fresh herbs or add to pasta or green salads|
|Sweet potato, boiled and mashed (1 cup)||2.4mg||Top with brown sugar and cinnamon or bake in a casserole|
|Tomatoes, canned and stewed (1/2 cup)||2.0mg||Add to sauces, stews or vegetarian chili|
|Tomato paste (1/4 cup)||1.9mg||Stir into sauces and casseroles|
|Dandelion greens, boiled (1 cup)||1.9mg||Boil alone or with other leafy greens; add to salads|
|Parsley, raw (1/2 cup)||1.8mg||Use as edible garnish or chop and add to fruit or vegetable salads|
|Pumpkin, canned (1/2 cup)||1.7mg||Add to smoothies or yogurt or top with honey and granola; use in baked goods|
|Figs, dried (1/2 cup dried)||1.5mg||Chop and sprinkle on salads, yogurt or hot cereal|
|Raisins (1/2 cup)||1.5mg||Add to hot or cold cereal, yogurt or smoothies|
|Kale, cooked (1 cup)||1.2mg||Saute or boil and eat alone or with other greens|
According to an article by Amanda Rose, PhD, it's also more challenging to meet the iron RDA if you eat vegetables with "iron inhibitors," which are foods or beverages that prevent the absorption of iron. On the other hand, eating foods rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, lemons, or grapefruit, helps your body absorb iron.
Take a Balanced Approach
It may be challenging to get your iron RDA by eating fruits and vegetables alone. However, if you eat them as part of a balanced diet that includes lean meats, legumes, grains, and seeds, you'll likely meet your iron goal. In addition, consider boiling or sauteing fruits and vegetables in a cast iron skillet. According to the Journal of Food Science, that will increase a food's iron content.