Iron is an essential nutrient in the body as it is a key component of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. Without adequate iron, cells and muscles don’t get the oxygen they need, resulting in fatigue and low energy.  Normal range for hemoglobin is approximately 13 to 18 grams per deciliter for men and 12 to 16 for women.  Hematocrit is the ration of red blood cells to whole blood.  Normal range for hematocrit is approximately 45 to 52 percent for men and 37 to 48 percent for women.

Iron RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance)

  • Men: 8 mg per day
  • Women (pre-menopausal): 18 mg per day
  • Vegetarian men and endurance athletes: 14 mg per day
  • Vegetarian women and endurance athletes: 33 mg per day

 Iron is found in two forms:

  • Heme iron: more easily absorbed form of iron. Primarily found in meat.
  • Non-heme iron: less readily absorbed form of iron. Mainly found in fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts. Vitamin C can increase the absorption of non-heme iron by up to 6 times, so combine it with a vitamin C food at meals.

 Norse Nutrition Tip!

Keep in mind that calcium and tannins (found in tea and coffee) reduce iron absorption so they should be spaced several hours from a meal.

Vegetarian Sources of Iron

Food Amount Iron (mg)
Soybeans (cooked) 1 cup 8.8
Blackstrap molasses 2 Tbsp 7.2
Lentils (cooked) 1 cup 6.6
Peaches (dried) 1 cup 6.5
Quinoa (cooked) 1 cup 6.3
Tofu 4 oz 6.0
Oatmeal (Fortified) 1 cup 5.8
Tempeh 1 cup 4.8
Lima beans (cooked) 1 cup 4.4
Black beans (cooked) 1 cup 3.6
Pinto beans (cooked) 1 cup 3.5
Apricots (dried) 1 cup 3.5
Chickpeas (cooked) 1 cup 3.2
Potato 1 large 3.2

 Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference

Norse Nutrition Tip!

Despite the high iron content of spinach and Swiss chard, the iron is not readily absorbed by the body because it is bound to the oxalate in these foods.