Unfortunately, the body cannot manufacture its own iron and is thus dependent on food intake for an adequate supply (Burke & Deakin 2000). Most nutrition experts question the need and long-term safety of taking daily iron supplements to prevent iron depletion. That’s because there is a plethora of foods that are very good sources of bioavailable, or readily absorbed, iron. Keep in mind that the way we combine foods in any given meal can also enhance iron absorption (Rockwell & Hinton 2005). Here are some practical food-pairing ways that will optimize the iron in your diet:

Combine plant nonheme iron sources, such as lentils and green, leafy veggies, with foods that are high in vitamin C, such as orange juice.

Use cast-iron cookware, which may increase the iron content of cooked foods. Don’t drink tea and coffee while eating iron-rich foods, since both beverages can impair iron absorption. Avoid pairing iron-rich foods with certain grains, such as wheat bran, or with veggies such as spinach, rhubarb, chard and beet greens. These foods contain chemical compounds called phytates and oxalates, which impair iron absorption. Don’t mix calcium-rich beverages, like milk and fortified orange juice, with foods that are high in iron, since calcium can also inhibit iron absorption (Rockwell & Hinton 2005).

 

  Good Sources of Iron in Food  
     
  Animal Sources
(heme iron)
Plant Sources
(nonheme iron)
 
  liver iron-enriched breakfast cereal  
  roast beef, steak nuts(cashews, almonds)  
  roast lamb sweet corn, potato  
  eggs lentils, baked beans in sauce, bean soup, chili with beans  
  dark-flesh tuna whole-grain foods (oatmeal, sunflower seeds)  
  lean pork, ham enriched bread, mostly wholemeal  
  skinless chicken green, leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, cabbage)  
  turkey milk chocolate  
  white fish dried fruit (prunes, apricots, raisins)  
  fresh fruit  
  soy (tofu, soybeans, soymilk)  


Footnote:Sources:Burke & Deakin, 2000; Rockwell & Hinton 2005.

References Burke, L., & Deakin, V. 2000. Clinical Sports Nutrition. Australia: McGraw-Hill. Chatard, J.C., et al. 1999. Anemia and iron deficiency in athletes. Sports Medicine, 27 (4), 229-40. Rockwell, M., & Hinton, P. 2005. Understanding iron. Training & Conditioning, XV (8), 19-25.