Center for Young Women's Health

Iron

 

Remember

  • Iron is a mineral that helps build red blood cells.
  • Good sources of iron include red meat, eggs, poultry, fish, legumes (or beans), and fortified cereals.
  • If you don't have enough iron, you can become anemic.

What is iron and why is it important?

Iron is a mineral that helps build red blood cells. Most importantly, iron helps your blood cells carry the oxygen that is needed for energy. Getting the right amount of iron can improve your performance in sports and in school.

 

Iron is an important nutrient for teen girls, especially for those who have started menstruating. Vegetarians also need to pay extra attention to make sure they get enough iron.

 

What is anemia?

Anemia is a condition that occurs when you don't have enough healthy red blood cells. Without the right amount of healthy red blood cells, enough oxygen doesn't get into your body. This causes people with anemia to look pale, and often feel weak and tired. The most common causes are not getting enough iron or losing too much iron from heavy menstrual periods. Your health care provider may recommend a multivitamin with iron if it seems like you are not getting enough iron from foods. If you are already anemic, your health care provider will probably suggest an iron supplement.

 

How much iron do I need?

Iron is measured in milligrams. The amount you need depends on your age, gender, body size, and lifestyle. In general, though, you can use these guidelines to determine how much iron you need.

What foods are rich in iron?

Good sources of iron include red meat, eggs, poultry, fish, legumes (or beans), and fortified cereals. It is important to know that your body absorbs iron from animal sources (known as “heme” iron) more easily than it absorbs iron from plant sources (known as “non-heme” iron). The abest sources of iron in food come from things that might not sound too appetizing, such as beef liver and chicken giblets. However, there are plenty of foods that you probably already eat that contain iron as well. The following table lists some foods that are good sources of iron.

 

 

Food Serving Size Iron (mg)
Beans and Peas
Baked beans, without pork ½ cup 1.5
Chick peas (boiled, not from a can) ½ cup 2.4
Lentils ½ cup 3.3
Kidney beans (boiled, not from a can) ½ cup 2
White beans, canned ½ cup 3.9
 
Cereals
Cheerios® 1 cup 9.3
Cinnamon Life® ¾ cup 7.4
Frosted Miniwheats® 24 biscuits 17.5
Rice Krispies® 1¼ cup 10
Whole Grain Total® ¾ cup 18
Malt-O-Meal® hot cereal 1 serving 13.9
 
Dried Fruit
Peaches ¼ cup 1.6
Apricots ½ cup 1.75
Raisins ¼ cup .7
 
Meat, Poultry and Fish
Egg 1 large 0.6
Pork* 3 ounces 1.0
Tuna, canned* 3 ounces 1.0
Beef loin* 3 ounces 3.0
Ground turkey* 3 ounces 0.7
Chicken* 3 ounces 1.7
Turkey deli meat 3 ounces 1.9
     
Other
Almonds 1 ounce 1.0
Cashews, unsalted 1 ounce 1.7
Prune juice ½ cup 1.5
Spinach, boiled ½ cup 3.2
* Source of heme iron

 

Nutrition Tips:

Remember: Try to include iron-rich foods in your day to keep your body healthy and prevent anemia.

 

Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital

 

Updated: 12/6/2013

 

Related Guides:

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Your body needs protein for nearly everything it does. Protein is needed to build and repair our muscles, to make our hair and skin, to fight against infections and to carry oxygen in our blood...

 

Dark Green Leafy Vegetables

Dark green leafy vegetables are good sources of many vitamins (like vitamins A, C, and K and folate) and minerals (such as iron and calcium)...

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