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November 28, 2019
Food sources to pump up your iron!

Minerals -as well as vitamins- are essential for our health and for our body’s proper function. Deficiencies and inadequacies are pretty common, in case someone does not follow a balanced diet, there is a health problem, or his/her nutritional needs are increased (e.g. in case of pregnancy or intense workout). 

Since I hear a lot of people saying that they have an iron deficiency – mainly women – I decided to find foods beyond the usual iron-rich ones and talk about them. This, of course, along with some recipes that include them! Iron, apart from being a necessary mineral, it plays an important part in many body functions, like the oxygen transport in the body through hemoglobin and the energy production. Keep in mind that an average man needs 8 to 9 mg of iron daily, while an average woman 14 to 15 mg (these refer to healthy individuals). Iron deficiency can cause anemia, fatigue, headache, pale skin, dizziness, cold hands and feet, and lack of concentration.

Apart from lentils, liver and red meat that -as you probably already know- are high in iron, I found some other foods that can be consumed by people who follow vegetarian or vegan diets, but also by people who follow any other kind of diet.


A vegetable with which we can make endless salads and savory recipes. For instance, we could make spinach with rice, a spinach pie, or an omelet with spinach… Lately, though, we find it a lot into smoothies. Spinach not only contains iron, but it is also a very good source of vitamin C, A, K, folic acid, magnesium, manganese, and calcium. All these nutrients contribute to our body’s normal function and especially of our immune system.

Suggested Recipe: Artichokes with spinach

Artichokes with spinach by the Greek chef Akis Petretzikis


A pseudocereal that has become very well-known lately, due to its high nutritional value. I can safely say that now, it is in the daily meal plan of people who follow vegan diets. It contains 2.3 mg iron in 100 g of cooked quinoa -that is 14% of the RDI*- and you can add it to countless recipes that contain rice, pasta or buckwheat as an alternative. For example, stuffed vegetables with quinoa, spinach with quinoa, a quinoa salad, squid with quinoa, or soups with quinoa.

Suggested Recipe: Smoked tomato and quinoa soup

Smoked tomato and quinoa soup by the Greek chef Akis Petretzikis

Red and black beans

You are probably already aware of the fact that legumes are good sources of iron, plant-based protein, and fiber. To us Greeks at least, it is very well-known that lentils are a good source of iron. However, black and red beans are just as high in iron since 100 g cooked beans can offer us about 3 mg iron. This, in combination with other minerals like phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, selenium, and copper which also contribute to the body’s normal function.

Suggested Recipe: Chicken with veggies and beans

Chicken with veggies and beans by the Greek chef Akis Petretzikis


Seafood may not be suitable for those who follow vegan diets but it is a good protein source, as well as a good source of iron. Especially if you choose mussels for lunch or dinner, they seem to contain at least 3 mg iron, which is 23% RDI*, and 16 g protein. All that, in combination with the fact that they contain 105 kcal per 100 g of cooked mussels, making them a complete meal, which anyone can add to his/her weekly menu. Their iron and zinc content is one of the reasons why some people claim that mussels and seafood are aphrodisiac foods.

Suggested Recipe: Seafood paella

Seafood paella by the Greek chef Akis Petretzikis

Dark chocolate

I saved the best for last! Dark chocolate (60-69% cocoa) contains iron, and specifically 6.3 mg (40% RDI*). This, of course, does not mean that we can consume as much as we want. As you very well know, we have to do that reasonably! Simply consume it as part of a balanced eating plan, without exaggerating!

Suggested Recipe: Vegan chocolate bars

Vegan chocolate bars by the Greek chef Akis Petretzikis

Something very important that you have to remember: combine plant-based sources of iron with vitamin C and avoid combining them with dairy products. This will give you the best possible absorption, especially if your diet does not contain meat or fish and if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. In addition, you should know that no food contains all of the vitamins and the minerals that our body needs! A variety of foods low in fats and sugars, and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals is what will make the difference and what will lead us to a good, balanced life!

*RDI: Recommended Daily Intake


This article was written in collaboration with Kitchen Lab’s Sports Nutritionist Anna Maria Volanaki, MSc, BDA, SENr.

*The above information is based on published research findings.

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