Iron in Foods

HealthLinkBC File Number: 
68d
Last Updated: 
January 2020

There are 2 types of iron found in foods:

  • Heme
  • Non-heme

Your body absorbs heme iron more easily than non-heme iron. However, foods containing non-heme iron are also very important sources of iron in your diet.

See HealthLinkBC File #68c Iron and Your Health for more information on how much iron you need and how to get the most iron from foods.

What foods have heme iron?

Food Iron (mg) per 75g (2 ½ oz serving)
Pork liver* 13.4
Chicken liver* 9.2
Oysters** 6.3
Mussels 5.0
Beef liver* 4.8
Liver pate, canned* 4.1
Beef 2.4
Clams 2.1
Sardines, canned 2.0
Lamb 1.5
Tuna/herring/trout/mackerel 1.2
Chicken 0.9
Pork 0.9
Shrimp 0.9
Salmon 0.5
Turkey 0.5
Flounder/sole/plaice 0.2

g = gram, mg = milligram, oz = ounce

*Liver and liver products (e.g. liverwurst spread and liver sausages) are high in vitamin A. Too much vitamin A may cause birth defects, especially during the first trimester. The safest choice is to limit these foods during pregnancy. If you choose to eat liver or liver products, have no more than 75g (2 ½ ounces) per week.

**Pacific oysters tend to be higher in cadmium. Health Canada recommends that adults eat no more than 12 B.C. oysters per month and that children eat no more than 1.5 B.C. oysters per month.

What foods have non-heme iron?

Food Serving Iron (mg)
Infant cereal, dry*** 28 g (5 tbsp) 7.0
Dried soybeans, boiled 175 mL (3/4 cup) 6.5
Lentils, cooked 175 mL (3/4 cup) 4.9
Pumpkin seeds/kernels, roasted 60 mL (1/4 cup) 4.7
Enriched cold cereal*** 30 g 4.5
Dark red kidney beans, cooked 175 mL (3/4 cup) 3.9
Blackstrap molasses 15 mL (1 tbsp) 3.6
Instant enriched hot cereal*** 175 mL (3/4 cup) 3.4
Spinach, cooked 125 mL (1/2 cup) 3.4
Refried beans, canned 175 mL (3/4 cup) 2.7
Edamame, green soybeans, cooked and shelled 125 mL (1/2 cup) 2.4
Medium firm or firm tofu 150 g (3/4 cup) 2.4
Tahini (sesame seed butter) 30 mL (2 tbsp) 2.3
Chickpeas, canned 175 mL (3/4 cup) 2.2
Lima beans, boiled 125 mL (1/2 cup) 2.2
Swiss chard, cooked 125 mL (1/2 cup) 2.1
Bagel 1/2 bagel 1.9
Potato, baked with skin 1 medium 1.9
Seaweed, agar (dried) 8 g (1/2 cup) 1.7
Prune puree 60 mL (1/4 cup) 1.7
Beet greens, cooked 125 mL (1/2 cup) 1.5
Quinoa, cooked 125 mL (1/2 cup) 1.5
Eggs 2 1.4
Green peas, boiled 125 mL (1/2 cup) 1.3
Quick or large flake oats, prepared 175 mL (3/4 cup) 1.3
Hummus 60 mL (1/4 cup) 1.2
Sunflower seeds/ kernels, dry roasted 60 mL (1/4 cup) 1.2
Tomato sauce, canned 125 mL (1/2 cup) 1.2
Pearled barley, cooked 125 mL (1/2 cup) 1.1
Sauerkraut 125 mL (1/2 cup) 1.1
Fortified soy beverage 250 mL (1 cup) 1.1
Fancy molasses 15 mL (1 tbsp) 1.0
Shredded wheat*** 30 g 1.0
Spinach, raw 250 mL (1 cup) 0.9
Whole wheat bread 35 g (1 slice) 0.9
Whole wheat pasta, cooked 125 mL (1/2 cup) 0.8
Beets, sliced, boiled 125 mL (1/2 cup) 0.7

g = gram, mg = milligram, mL = milliliter, tbsp = tablespoon

***Iron amounts in enriched and prepared foods vary. Check the nutrition label for more information. By 2022, all labels will list the amount of iron in milligrams. Until then, some labels will only list the iron as a percent daily value (%DV). The daily value used is 14 mg (or 7 mg for infant cereals). For example, if a serving of cereal has 25% of the daily value, it has 3.5 mg of iron (0.25 x 14 mg).

Note: Most of the iron values in the above tables come from the Canadian Nutrient File (CNF). If more than one entry for that food item was available in the CNF, an average of the entries was taken.

For More Information

For more nutrition information, call 8-1-1 to speak with a registered dietitian.

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