No meat? No prob. These iron-rich foods will help you avoid anemia and stay strong through the finish line.
The Best Iron-Rich Foods
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The human body can't produce iron, but this mineral helps regulate cell growth and contributes to healthy muscles and immune system—plus, red blood cells rely on iron to carry oxygen throughout the body. So where do we get it? Food!
Foods derived from animals like beef, pork, chicken, fish, and eggs have a type of iron called heme iron, which is more easily absorbed. Foods derived from plant sources like beans, lentils, peas, leafy green vegetables, and some seeds contain non-heme iron, which is more difficult for the body to absorb. Still, it’s possible to get enough iron via plants and iron-enriched foods even if you don’t eat meat.
The recommended daily amount for adults is 18 milligrams—and women tend to need more iron than men (hey thanks, period!). Another problem? Iron is considered the most common deficiency not only in the United States, but also in the world. So don't slack off when it comes to adding this mineral to your diet, even if you're eating a vegetarian diet or following the flexitarian plan. Pack it in with these 9 iron-rich foods.
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When it comes to vegetarian food, tofu is a go-to—and not only because of the protein it offers. "Tofu is an excellent source of iron," says Kara Lydon, R.D., L.D.N., R.Y.T., blogger at The Foodie Dietitian. "Four ounces contains 6.4 milligrams of iron, 36 percent of your daily value!" Add this iron-enriched food to a rice bowl, scramble tofu for breakfast, or blend the soft variety into a smoothie.
Get the recipe: Spicy Peanut Tofu and Bok Choy Rice Bowl
Photo: The Foodie Dietitian
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These young soybeans are a tasty vegetarian snack and a great addition to mains and sides, such as paella, for an iron-enriched food feast. "This paella uses edamame, a wonderful plant-based protein that provides over 40 percent of your daily iron need in just one cup," says Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T., of Shaw's Simple Swaps. "It's perfect to whip up in advance for your spring potlucks and will satisfy your gluten-free and vegan guests, as well!" (Related: 10 Plant-Based Proteins That Your Stomach Will Love as Much as You Do)
Get the recipe: Summer Garden Paella
Photo: Shaw's Simple Swaps
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Bean there, done that? Good. Beans—including chickpeas, black beans, and navy beans—are excellent iron-rich foods. A cup of chickpeas, for instance, offers 26 percent of your daily need, while the same amount of black beans provides 29 percent. Add chickpeas to a salad, or simply serve with roasted garlic and diced tomatoes. "It's important to know that the iron in beans and other plant proteins [such as this stellar mushroom “bacon”!] is absorbed more readily with the help of vitamin-C-rich foods, including grapefruits, bell peppers, and beets," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D., creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table. "Adequate vitamin C intake is particularly important for vegetarians, vegans, and those who do not consume heme iron."
Get the recipe: Super Salad
Photo: Bonnie Taub-Dix
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Go ahead, be flaky. Enriched grains, such as oatmeal, provide big iron doses. A packet of plain instant oatmeal, for instance, contains 40 percent of your daily need. Add oatmeal to a smoothie, or whip up some overnight oats. "This cinnamon-apple oatmeal is a great source of iron, providing about 3.8 milligrams per serving, which predominantly comes from the instant oats, chia seeds, and plant-based milk," says Kristina DeMuth, M.P.H., R.D., blogger at KristinaDeMuth.com. (For extra muscle-building power, try these proats recipes.)
Get the recipe: Cinnamon-Apple Oatmeal
Photo: Kristina DeMuth
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Take your pulse (and eat it)! Pulses, dried beans and peas are protein-packed, iron-rich foods—especially lentils. One cup of cooked lentils offers 6.6 milligrams of iron, 37 percent of your daily requirement. Add lentils to a salad, or make a lentil soup. "This soup is easy to make and kid-friendly!" says Kristina LaRue, R.D., blogger at LoveandZest.com.
Get the recipe: Tomato and Lentil Soup
Photo: Love and Zest
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"Adding this green vegetable to your diet provides a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals without many calories," says as Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., owner of Nutrition a la Natalie. "One cup of cooked broccoli offers 1 milligram of iron, almost twice the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, and 20 percent of your daily recommendation for fiber." Stalk on by adding this iron-rich food to an egg cup, or toss into a stir-fry. (Did you know these are the 3 most nutritious ways to prep veggies?)
Get the recipe: Green Eggs and Quinoa Muffins
Photo: Nutrition a la Natalie
7. Whole Grains
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Go with the grain. Pasta and bread made with whole grains usually offer iron as well. A 2-ounce serving of whole-grain spaghetti, for instance, provides 20 percent of what you need in a day. Add beans and leafy greens to your pasta dish for an iron-enriched food combo. "This recipe contains 44 percent of the daily value of iron per serving, thanks to the beans, spinach, and whole-wheat pasta," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., owner of NutritionStarringYOU.com. "That's an excellent amount of iron packed into a vegan recipe!"
Get the recipe: White Bean and Veggie Rotini Marinara
Photo: Nutrition Starring You
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In addition to offering fiber (quite possibly the most important nutrient in your diet) and protein, almonds are an iron-enriched food. A quarter-cup serving provides a little over a milligram of iron, and 2 tablespoons of almond butter will provide the same. Go nuts (or nut butter) in a bowl of oatmeal, sprinkle over plain Greek yogurt, or enjoy almonds in a fruit-and-nut bar, such as a KIND Thai Sweet Chili Sweet and Spicy Bar, offering 10 percent of your daily iron.
Get the recipe: Mango-Almond Oatmeal
Photo: Amy Gorin Nutrition
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Step aside, steak. Leafy greens like spinach and kale contain iron, too. Add spinach to a dip, or sauté with a little olive oil to get a higher dose of iron per volume: A cup of raw spinach has about a milligram of iron, while a cup of cooked spinach offers more than six times that amount. "This dip contains a combination of white beans, cashews, and spinach, making it a good source of protein and iron," says Jessi Haggerty, R.D., owner of JessiHagerty.com. (Related: 5 Sweet Smoothies Secretly Hiding Greens)
Get the recipe: Creamy Greens and Artichoke Dip
Photo: Jessi Haggerty