Iron in Foods

HealthLinkBC File Number: 
Last Updated: 
January 2020
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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?

FoodIron (mg) per 75g (2 ½ oz serving)
Pork liver*13.4
Chicken liver*9.2
Beef liver*4.8
Liver pate, canned*4.1
Sardines, canned2.0

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?

FoodServingIron (mg)
Infant cereal, dry***28 g (5 tbsp)7.0
Dried soybeans, boiled175 mL (3/4 cup)6.5
Lentils, cooked175 mL (3/4 cup)4.9
Pumpkin seeds/kernels, roasted60 mL (1/4 cup)4.7
Enriched cold cereal***30 g4.5
Dark red kidney beans, cooked175 mL (3/4 cup)3.9
Blackstrap molasses15 mL (1 tbsp)3.6
Instant enriched hot cereal***175 mL (3/4 cup)3.4
Spinach, cooked125 mL (1/2 cup)3.4
Refried beans, canned175 mL (3/4 cup)2.7
Edamame, green soybeans, cooked and shelled125 mL (1/2 cup)2.4
Medium firm or firm tofu150 g (3/4 cup)2.4
Tahini (sesame seed butter)30 mL (2 tbsp)2.3
Chickpeas, canned175 mL (3/4 cup)2.2
Lima beans, boiled125 mL (1/2 cup)2.2
Swiss chard, cooked125 mL (1/2 cup)2.1
Bagel1/2 bagel1.9
Potato, baked with skin1 medium1.9
Seaweed, agar (dried)8 g (1/2 cup)1.7
Prune puree60 mL (1/4 cup)1.7
Beet greens, cooked125 mL (1/2 cup)1.5
Quinoa, cooked125 mL (1/2 cup)1.5
Green peas, boiled125 mL (1/2 cup)1.3
Quick or large flake oats, prepared175 mL (3/4 cup)1.3
Hummus60 mL (1/4 cup)1.2
Sunflower seeds/ kernels, dry roasted60 mL (1/4 cup)1.2
Tomato sauce, canned125 mL (1/2 cup)1.2
Pearled barley, cooked125 mL (1/2 cup)1.1
Sauerkraut125 mL (1/2 cup)1.1
Fortified soy beverage250 mL (1 cup)1.1
Fancy molasses15 mL (1 tbsp)1.0
Shredded wheat***30 g1.0
Spinach, raw250 mL (1 cup)0.9
Whole wheat bread35 g (1 slice)0.9
Whole wheat pasta, cooked125 mL (1/2 cup)0.8
Beets, sliced, boiled125 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.

Is it an emergency?

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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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