Health news

A marked difference

Depending on the food source, iron is absorbed by the body to varying degrees. Iron from animals is easily absorbed, but it is seven times harder for our bodies to absorb iron from plants.

HEME ANIMAL Meat, organ meats, poultry, fish and seafood
NON-HEME PLANT Dark green vegetables, wholegrain products and fortified cereals, legumes

Maximize absorption

Fortunately, we can help our bodies better absorb iron!

  • Pair up foods rich in plant iron with a source of animal iron.
  • Pair up foods rich in plant iron with a source of vitamin C (strawberries, kiwis, peppers, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cantaloupe and broccoli).

Some components, like those found in tea and bran, can impede iron absorption.

  • Eat these foods between meals rich in iron.

Keep an eye on the iron, ladies!

Women need more than twice as much iron as men every day. 

  • Be sure to include good sources of iron on your daily menu!

  • Frozen spinach to your sauces;
  • Lentils to your soups;
  • Dried pumpkin seeds to your snacks.

How much iron do you need?

Daily Iron Requirements
Age Group Men Women
Children 4 to 8 10 mg 10 mg
Children 9 to 13 8 mg 8 mg
Teens 14 to 18 11 mg 15 mg
Adults 19 to 50 8 mg 18 mg (until menopause)
Adults over 50 8 mg 8 mg
Pregnant women 27 mg

What does it do?

Iron facilitates chemical reactions in your cells, transports oxygen required by your tissues and muscles and ensures there are enough red blood cells in the blood.

Iron deficiency

With 25% of the world’s population iron deficient, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency on the planet. Pregnant women, women of child-bearing age, premenopausal women with significant menstrual blood loss, and children up to 18 years of age are the most at risk. In Quebec most women 18 to 49 do not consume enough iron. When iron deficiency is severe, it can lead to anemia.

When anemia develops...

Anemia occurs when there aren’t enough red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood. There are several types, but the most common is iron deficiency anemia, most often caused by a diet low in iron and significant blood loss. The appearance of symptoms and their intensity vary depending on the severity of the anemia. Here are a few examples:

  • Fatigue
  • Pale complexion
  • Headaches
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Dizziness
  • Weak immune system (more vulnerable to infection)

Need a supplement?

As is the case for all vitamins and minerals, wholesome food is the best source of nutrition for the body. Taking supplements is a “Plan B” solution. People at risk and those with a deficiency problem may be prescribed supplements by a doctor. Pregnant women should take a daily multivitamin that contains 16 to 20 mg of iron. And since taking iron supplements is sometimes accompanied by side effects, such as nausea or constipation, it is best to take them with food.

Your iron consumption at a glance

Below are the main sources of iron.

Animal Source Iron

Food Serving Iron Content
Canned clams 100 g 28 mg
Cooked pork liver 100 g 18 mg
Cooked chicken liver 100 g 13 mg
Raw or cooked oysters 100 g (4 to 6 medium) 7 mg
Cooked mussels 100 g (12 medium) 6.7 mg
Cooked beef liver 100 g 6.5 mg
Cooked blood sausage 100 g 6 mg
Cooked veal liver  100 g 5 mg
Cooked horse meat  100 g 5 mg
Cooked beef (various lean cuts) 100 g 3.2 mg
Cooked shrimp 100 g (16 to 18) 3.0 mg
Canned Atlantic sardines 100 g (6 to 8) 2.9 mg
Cooked chicken (white and dark meat) 100 g 1.4 mg

Plant Source Iron

Food Serving Iron Content
Regular firm or semi-firm tofu 100 g 5 mg
Pumpkin seeds 60 ml (¼ cup) 5 mg
Cooked quinoa 175 ml (¾ cup) 2.4 mg
Ready-to-eat All Bran–type cereal (enriched) 30 g 4 mg
Ready-to-eat bran flake cereal 30 g 3.9 mg
Canned cooked white kidney beans 125 ml 3.8 mg
Blackstrap molasses 1 tbsp. (15 ml) 3.6 mg
Cooked lentils 125 ml (½ cup) 3.5 mg
Quick cream of wheat cereal 175 ml (¾ cup) 3 mg
Cooked spinach 125 ml (½ cup) 3.4 mg
Dry baby cereal 30 ml (2 tbsp.) 2.4 mg
Jacket baked potato 173 g (1 medium) 1.9mg
Cooked soybeans (edamame) 125 ml (½ cup) 19 mg
Canned tomatoes 125 ml (½ cup) 1.8 mg
Toasted soybeans 60 ml (¼ cup) 1.7 mg
Mixed nuts with peanuts 60 ml (¼ cup) 1.3 mg
Raisins 1 small box 0.8 mg
Dried apricots 6 halves (21 g) 0.6 mg

  • Health Canada, Canadian Nutrient File, version 2007b