Lentils and beans are good vegetarian sources of iron.

Ways to Get Iron Without Eating Meat

by Erica Kannall

If you have recently found out you're anemic or pregnant, you need to focus on getting enough iron in your diet. Iron found in animal protein, which is called heme iron, is easier for your body to absorb than non-heme iron found in plant-based foods. However, pairing a plant-based source of iron with vitamin C or food with heme iron greatly increases iron absorption, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. Women ages 19 to 50 need about 18 milligrams of iron per day. Pregnant and lactating women respectively need 27 and 9 milligrams of iron daily. Women age 51 and over need only 8 milligrams per day.


Seafood and shellfish contain heme iron. Oysters, bass, cod, mackerel, salmon, trout, tuna, crab, shrimp and halibut, for example, contain iron. You'll get anywhere from 0.2 milligrams to 5.7 milligrams of iron per 3-ounce serving of seafood. Try a grilled fish entree for dinner or have fish tacos or a tuna fish sandwich for lunch.


If you prefer a pure vegetarian diet, beans are an excellent source of iron and protein. One cup of cooked soybeans has 8.8 milligrams of iron, one cup of lentils has 6.6 milligrams, one cup of kidney beans has 5.2 milligrams, one cup of lima beans has 4.5 milligrams, one cup navy beans has 4.3 milligrams and one cup of black beans and pinto beans each have 3.6 milligrams. In addition to iron, legumes are a good source of fiber and other vitamins and minerals. Try incorporating beans into vegetarian soups and chilies, bean burritos, curry dishes, salad topping or chilled salads.

Leafy Greens

Leafy green vegetables provide you with a variety of nutrients, including iron. From one cup of raw kale, you'll get 1 milligram of iron. A half cup of cooked beet greens has 2.7 milligrams of iron, 1/2 cup of cooked Swiss chard has 2 milligrams and 1/2 cup of cooked turnip greens has 1.2 milligrams. One cup of raw spinach has 0.8 milligrams of iron. Incorporate leafy greens into raw salads, stir fries, omelets, soups, stews and side dishes to get more iron.

Fortified Foods

Certain packaged foods are fortified with iron. You'll commonly see iron-fortified breakfast cereal, oatmeal, pasta and bread, for example. Try eating iron-fortified foods with a source of vitamin C, such as orange juice, bell peppers, strawberries or tomatoes, to enhance the absorption of non-heme iron.


About the Author

Erica Kannall is a registered dietitian and certified health/fitness specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine. She has worked in clinical nutrition, community health, fitness, health coaching, counseling and food service. She holds a Bachelor of Science in clinical dietetics and nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh.

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