Foods richest in iron

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Iron is involved in many biological functions and the first one is the oxygenation of tissues and muscles. Its deficiency is the most widespread in the world, especially in pregnant women and children. Zoom on an essential mineral!

  • Iron is an essential mineral for the body
  • It participates in the oxygenation of tissues
  • It is also involved in DNA synthesis
  • 70% is associated with hemoglobin
  • Meat products are the best sources
  • Vitamin C increases its absorption


The body cannot synthesize iron. Therefore, it must be obtained from food every day. Nature is well done: its absorption rate varies according to the state of the body’s reserves (ferritin). This defense system allows us to avoid the toxic effects of an excess, but also to fight against martial deficiency, particularly frequent in women.
In 2011, the World Health Organization estimated that about 29% of women of childbearing age had anemia, a figure that would be even higher in pregnant women. Half of these cases would be due to iron deficiency (iron deficiency anemia).


70% of the body’s iron is present in the hemoglobin of red blood cells. It allows oxygen to be captured and transported to the cells. Iron is also present in the myoglobin of the muscles with which it allows to store oxygen.
Non-heme iron (which is not associated with hemoglobin) is involved in many metabolic reactions. It is thus necessary for energy production, for the normal functioning of the immune system and for cognitive development in children.


Meat and meat products, as well as fish, are its best food sources. On the one hand, the mineral is present in large quantities, and on the other hand, it is heme iron. This is better assimilated (about 5 times) than the non-haem iron contained in plants or dairy products. The difference in absorption is due to the presence of certain compounds in plants (phytic acid, oxalic acid and tannins) and the calcium in milk.

However, two very simple actions can improve the assimilation of iron from plants

  • eat meat or fish with plant products
  • eat vegetables rich in vitamin C (citrus fruits, kiwi, red fruits, peppers, cabbage, orange juice…) as a side dish.


the richest vegetables are peas, parsley, lentils, dandelion, purslane, white and red beans and, of course, spinach.


The most famous of these is about Popeye… This famous sailor from an American comic strip got his superhuman strength from canned spinach… a vegetable that was touted at the time (in the 1920s) for its iron content. In fact, spinach is indeed a source of iron. But it is less well absorbed than the iron in meat. Perhaps Popeye would have been even stronger with a full meal?


Despite the frequency of iron deficiency in the world, iron supplementation should ideally be done under medical supervision, because the human body has few mechanisms for eliminating this trace element, so it accumulates easily. In other words, it is preferable to use food to cover the daily needs of this mineral.

If you follow a vegetarian diet, think of the “lemon” reflex, by associating plants rich in iron with plants rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, cabbage, peppers…


As mentioned above, iron deficiency can lead to anemia, which is a sign of a decrease in the concentration of hemoglobin in the blood. The main symptoms, when present, are fatigue, a pale complexion and increased shortness of breath on exertion.

The consequences of a more moderate deficiency in this mineral are still unclear. It could cause a reduction of the physical capacity with the effort, a reduction of the intellectual performances, a lesser resistance to the infections, disturbances during the pregnancy,…

Excess iron can also be harmful. Epidemiological data report an association between high iron intake and an increase in the incidence of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and certain digestive cancers. However, this risk appears to be relatively low.

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