Iron in Foods

HealthLinkBC File Number: 
68d
Last Updated: 
January 2017
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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 Serving Iron (mg)
Liver, pork* 75 g (2 ½ oz) 13.4
Liver, chicken* 75 g (2 ½ oz) 9.2
Oysters** 75 g (2 ½ oz) 6.3
Mussels 75 g (2 ½ oz) 5.0
Liver, beef* 75 g (2 ½ oz) 4.8
Liver pate, canned* 75 g (2 ½ oz) 4.1
Beef 75 g (2 ½ oz) 2.4
Clams 75 g (2 ½ oz) 2.1
Shrimp 75 g (2 ½ oz) 0.9
Sardines 75 g (2 ½ oz) 2.0
Lamb 75 g (2 ½ oz) 1.5
Tuna/herring/trout/mackerel 75 g (2 ½ oz) 1.2
Chicken 75 g (2 ½ oz) 0.9
Pork 75 g (2 ½ oz) 0.9
Salmon (canned/fresh) 75 g (2 ½ oz) 0.5
Turkey 75 g (2 ½ oz) 0.5
Flatfish (flounder / sole / plaice) 75 g (2 ½ oz) 0.2

g = gram, mg = milligram, oz = ounce

* Note: 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 oysters per month and that children eat no more than 1 to 2 oysters per month.

What foods have non-heme iron?

Food Serving Iron (mg)
Infant cereal, dry 28 g (5 tbsp) 7.0*
Soybeans, dried, boiled 175 mL (3/4 cup) 6.5
Enriched cold cereal 30 g 4.5*
Lentils, cooked 175 mL (3/4 cup) 4.9
Pumpkin seeds, kernels, roasted 60 mL (1/4 cup) 4.7
Quaker® instant enriched oatmeal 1 package 3.5*
Dark red kidney beans, boiled 175 mL (3/4 cup) 3.9
Blackstrap molasses 15 mL (1 tbsp) 3.6
Spinach, cooked 125 mL (1/2 cup) 3.4
Cream of wheat, instant, prepared 175 mL (3/4 cup) 3.1*
Refried beans 175 mL (3/4 cup) 2.7
Hummus 175 mL (3/4 cup) 1.2
Bagel 45 g (1/2) 1.9
Tofu, medium firm or firm 150 g (3/4 cup) 2.4
Chickpeas, canned 175 mL (3/4 cup) 2.2
Soybeans, green/edamame (cooked and shelled) 125 mL (1/2 cup) 2.4
Tahini, sesame seed butter 30 mL (2 tbsp) 2.3
Lima beans, boiled 125 mL (1/2 cup) 2.2
Swiss chard, cooked 125 mL (1/2 cup) 2.1
Shredded wheat 30 g 1.0*
Seaweed, agar, dried 8 g (1/2 cup) 1.7
Cream of wheat, regular, prepared 175 mL (3/4 cup) 1.6
Prune juice, canned 125 mL (1/2 cup) 1.6
Beet greens, cooked 125 mL (1/2 cup) 1.5
Eggs 2 1.4
Green peas, boiled 125 mL (1/2 cup) 1.3
Oats, quick or large flakes, prepared 175 mL (3/4 cup) 1.3
Tomato sauce, canned 125 mL (1/2 cup) 1.2
Sunflower seeds, kernels, roasted 60 mL (1/4 cup) 1.2
Pearled barley, cooked 125 mL (1/2 cup) 1.1
Potato, baked, with skin 1 medium 1.1
Quinoa, cooked 125 mL (1/2 cup) 1.1
Sauerkraut 125 mL (1/2 cup) 1.1
Molasses, fancy 15 mL (1 tbsp) 1.0
Pasta, enriched, cooked 125 mL (1/2 cup) 1.0
Soy beverage 250 mL (1 cup) 1.0
Spinach, raw 250 mL (1 cup) 0.9
Whole wheat bread 35 g (1 slice) 0.9

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

Note: Most of the iron values in the above tables come from the Canadian Nutrient File (CNF, 2015). If more than one entry for that food item was available in the CNF, an average of the entries was taken.

Iron amounts in some enriched and prepared foods vary; check the label for more information. If the iron amount is given as a percentage of the daily value (DV), the standard 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).

For More Information

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

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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