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Food with iron: which choice do you have?

Anyone who has watched an episode of Popeye in the past can quickly come to the conclusion that spinach is good for muscle growth because it is packed with iron. But is there really that much iron in spinach? And why would it have such an effect on our muscle growth?

Iron is an important mineral that belongs to the essential nutrients. This means that it is a nutrient that we must get from food.

Fortunately, food with iron is not difficult to find, so for people who eat consciously, a deficiency will not occur very quickly.

In this blog, we explain why it is important to eat enough food with iron, the difference between the types of iron that we can absorb, how you can recognize an iron deficiency, and which different types of food there are.

What is the function of iron in food?

As mentioned, iron is a mineral that we must get through our diet. Iron plays a very important role in transporting oxygen through our bodies. This is because our bodies use iron to form hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein that ensures that sufficient oxygen is transported by our red blood cells. Our red blood cells are approximately 1/3 E of hemoglobin, so it is important that this is sufficiently present.

Food with iron

So, consuming enough foods with iron is important to ensure that our bodies can function in an efficient way. What Popeye used to say about the iron in spinach that makes it so strong is not true. However, it never hurts to encourage children to eat more vegetables, so we can't really blame him.

Iron deficiency

When someone has an iron deficiency, this can have unpleasant consequences. The symptoms of an iron deficiency are:

  • Fatigue
  • Quickly out of breath
  • The skin turns pale
  • Restless legs

Some people are extra sensitive to build up such a deficiency, namely pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding, women who have their periods, children, vegetarians, and vegans. An iron deficiency can lead to anemia. If you are not sure whether you may have anemia or an iron deficiency, it is best to contact your doctor. An appointment is made in no time, right?

Different types of iron in food

Before we arrive at the different foods with (a lot of) iron, we first have to deal with the differences in the types of iron. The mineral occurs in two different forms. This is heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is only found in animal products, such as meat, chicken, and fish.

Non-heme iron can also be found in animal products, but also in plant products. Experience shows that most of the iron we ingest is non-heme iron. It is estimated that the ratio is that we ingest no less than 90% non-heme iron and 10% heme iron.

The iron we ingest cannot be fully absorbed by our bodies. We can absorb up to about 10% of non-heme iron. For heme iron, this percentage is about 25%.

The recommended daily amount of iron for adult men is 11mg per day and 15 to 16mg per day for adult women. It is not further specified whether this includes a certain ratio of heme iron and non-heme iron.

Food with iron: what is the best food

Now that we have enough information about iron, we can look at which types of foods we should eat to get enough iron. Fortunately, as mentioned, many foods contain iron, so even if you're a picky eater, that shouldn't be a problem.

View an overview of foods with a lot of iron here:


Meat (especially red meat) contains a high amount of iron. A piece of beef, for example, is full of iron, but veal or lamb also belongs to this group. Pork also belongs to the red meat group but contains slightly less iron. Chicken also contains iron, but a lot less than the same amount of beef.


Almost all grain products contain a relatively high amount of iron. Think, for example, of whole wheat bread, rye bread, and muesli. Almost all whole-wheat pasta types also contain a good amount of iron and a tasty snack such as a muesli bar can be seen as a source of iron.


An egg contains a lot of iron and therefore certainly falls under the category of food with (a lot of) iron. An egg does not contain very many calories and in addition to a large amount of iron, it also contains a lot of protein. People who eat several eggs a day also get a good amount of iron in addition to proteins.

TIP: Do you also want to eat more food with proteins? Then read this blog: food with a lot of proteins.


Almost all types of nuts contain a lot of iron. The nuts with the most iron are cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, walnuts, and pecans. So feel free to take a delicious handful of nuts!


We all know that vegetables are healthy for us. Vegetables also contain quite a bit of iron. Spinach is (partly due to Popeye) known as a vegetable with a lot of iron. Due to a typo in a study, the authors of Popeye thought that spinach contains a lot of iron, which is actually not that bad. Other vegetables that are also quite high in iron are endive, kale, and broccoli.


Fruit is also very healthy for humans and, in addition to the vitamins for which it is so known, also contains an excellent amount of iron. Dried fruits often contain the most amount of iron, such as dried apricots, figs, and dates. Fresh fruits, such as blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries also contain a fair amount of iron.


Products such as kidney beans, lima beans, white beans, and kidney beans are also known to contain a good amount of iron. It therefore certainly does not hurt to eat some legumes every day, because they are also packed with proteins. In addition, we can count legumes among the fiber-rich food. All in all, great foods to consume every day.

Do you eat little food with iron?

Do you think you are deficient in iron? To be sure of this, we always recommend that you visit your doctor. He can quickly find out what causes your complaints and what you need to do to get rid of them. 

In the meantime, it can of course not hurt to pay extra attention to your diet. Who knows, you might feel a noticeable difference if you eat some extra products from the list of foods with iron. A supplement with iron may offer a solution.

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