Iron is that vital nutrient your body just can’t do without, thanks to its role in oxygen supply, metabolism, growth, and development. While a variety of veggies and fruits are good sources of iron, your chances of loading up on it are much higher if you are non-vegetarian. This is not only because animal sources can be richer in iron but also because the iron they contain – heme iron – has higher bioavailability. So when compared to vegetarian sources which have non-heme iron, meat-based sources (as well as poultry and fish) are more readily available for use in the human body.1 Yes, good news indeed if you are non-vegetarian!
The recommended dietary allowances of iron are:
- 8 mg for adult men under 50
- 18 mg for adult women under 50
- 27 mg for pregnant women
- 9 mg for nursing mothers
- 8 mg for men and women over 50
So what are your options? If you are willing to go beyond the regular cuts of meat or try game meats, you may not just increase that iron intake but also up the variety of your diet. And even if you prefer sticking to the familiar flavors, there’s lots to choose from. The following list will give you an idea of how much iron you’ll find in a typical serving of food. In addition, the percentage daily value (DV) will help you get a sense of how much of your daily requirement it meets. A % DV of 20 and up is very good. At present, the recommended daily value (DV) for iron is set to 18 mg a day for adults.2 For pregnant women and lactating mothers, this number is, however, 27 mg.3 Now go on and dive into this list of meat sources to pump some iron!
If you aren’t queasy about organ meat, this can be a great place to get your iron. Lamb kidneys have a whopping 10.54 mg of iron per 3 oz serving when cooked – that’s 58.5% DV. Those from beef or pork, on the other hand, have 4.93 mg (27% DV) and 4.5 mg (25% DV) of iron, respectively.4 5 6
- A serving of lamb kidneys: 10.54 of iron (58.5% DV)
- A serving of beef kidneys: 4.93 mg of iron (27% DV)
- A serving of pork kidneys: 4.5 mg of iron (25% DV)
If you are open to experimenting, you may actually end up loving the rich flavors kidneys offer! Cook kidneys in red wine, tomato sauce, or add them to a beef stew. A spiced kidney casserole is also delicious to eat. Just remember, overcooking these meats can make them chewy and ruin their taste. But unlike lamb or veal kidneys, beef kidneys can take quite a while to break down and become succulent; so braising or slow cooking may work best.
It is also hard to beat liver when it comes to iron content. A 3 oz serving of pan-fried beef liver contains 5 mg of iron. That’s 28% DV right there.7 Lamb liver is another option and has even more iron in a 3 oz serving – 8.67 mg or 48% DV.8
Don’t overdo meat sources. Limit portion size and also go meat-free a couple of days per week, banking instead on generous portions of veggies, fruits, and legumes for all vital nutrients.
Liver can be a bit of an acquired taste but once you get used to it, it may become a hot favorite at the dinner table. Add some exotic Moroccan spices to amp up the flavor or pair with a side of mashed potatoes for an ample meal. It goes really well with jammy caramelized onions too. Soaking the liver in milk for an hour or two before cooking can help make the taste milder.
- A serving of lamb liver: 8.67 mg of iron (48% DV)
- A serving of beef liver: 5 mg or iron (28% DV)
A serving of beef steak: 2.83 mg of iron (16% DV).
If you’re a meat person, chances are you love your beef and know it well. Whichever cut of beef you decide to go with, you will rake in the iron. For instance, a bottom round cut of beef, braised, offers 2 mg of iron per 3 oz serving. So you can expect 11% DV from that.9 A 3 oz serving of flank steak braised has 2.83 mg of iron or 16% DV.10
If you’re looking for inspiration beyond steak, pie, or roast or grilled meat, how about experimenting with some beef recipes from distant shores? Vietnamese beef salad, Thai beef stir-fry, Malaysian beef rendang, Indian coconut and pepper spiced beef fry, or even the challenging beef wellington from across the pond in the UK are recipes you could dabble in.
A serving of moose meat: 3.59 mg of iron (20% DV)
Game meat like moose may not be for everyone, but if you do develop a taste for it, it can be an interesting change from beef, lamb, or pork. There’s 3.59 mg of iron in a 3 oz serving of roasted moose meat. Which means you’ll get about 20% DV from this serving size.11
Moose not only tastes good in a hearty stew with vegetables or as a roast but can also make for an interesting twist in satay or meatballs. You could also make a moose pie or serve it simply as a steak. Avoid overcooking moose meat – serving it medium rare works well. Think of it as a version of beef and you’ll do fine. Avoid well-done moose at any cost – it just tastes leathery. Slow cooking also works like a charm and is a safe way to get a delicious meal from this unusual meat.
A serving of venison: 3.48 mg of iron (19% DV)
Another game meat rich in iron is venison – there’s 4.09 mg of iron per 100 gm of broiled meat, so a standard 3 oz serving would contain 3.48 mg of iron and meet 19% DV.12
This lean game meat from deer has a delicious rich flavor. Serve up venison as steaks or pan fry it. You could pair it with fruit or strong herbs and even red wine sauces. Braise venison with carrots and turnips and red wine for a truly delicious meal. Stuff pasties with it, turn it into venison wellington like you would make beef wellington, or try a game pie.
6. Ground Beef Or Lamb
Prefer your meat ground up? Ground beef can be fashioned into meatballs or burgers for a quick fix meal. If you have a barbecue or grill and the weather is right, fire it up and make a celebratory family meal of it all! For a weeknight dinner, you can make the burgers ahead of time and freeze them to use when needed.
- A serving of ground beef: 1.91 mg of iron (10.6% DV)
- A serving of ground lamb: 1.52 mg of iron (8.4% DV)
Choose from beef or lamb – they both taste equally good. Or mix it up a little and use a bit of both. About 3 ounces of broiled ground lamb meat can give you 1.52 mg of iron (8.4% DV).13 The same amount of broiled ground beef will give you 1.91 mg of iron (10.6% DV).14
You can also fashion the meat into kebabs or use it in shepherd’s pie or lasagna. If you have a sausage making machine, you can even venture into that area with your favorite spices and ground meat.
- A serving of lamb shoulder: 1.67 mg of iron (9% DV)
- A serving of lamb cubes: 2.38 mg of iron (11% DV)
If you love a good lamb souvlaki or roast lamb, you’ll also be getting between 1.3 to 2.1 mg of iron (7 to 12% DV) on average depending on the cut.15 A 3 oz serving of roasted shoulder of lamb should fetch you 1.67 mg of iron – that’s 9% of your DV. Go for a 3 oz serving of braised lamb cubes (from the leg and shoulder) and you have 2.38 mg of iron or 11% DV.16 Curries take well to lamb too if you’d fancy something a little different. Or enjoy a lamb cutlet with peas and mint or in a Moroccan style tagine recipe.
Brains are quite polarizing. Many die-hard fans swear by the creaminess of a well-cooked brain but then there are those who never go beyond one tasting. Best way is to find out is to try them yourself!
- A serving of beef brains: .89 mg of iron (10.5% DV)
- A serving of lamb brains: 1.73 mg (9.6% DV)
- A serving of pork brains: 1.55 mg (8.6% DV)
A good place to start? Deep fried brains encased in the crunchiest golden crumb coating. You can also make spiced scrambled brains with turmeric, onion, and green chilies. Always soak the brains first if you can – it cleans them and also firms them up a bit. And remember to cook brains while they are fresh as they don’t stand up too well to storage. Pan-fried beef brains offers you 1.89 mg of iron (10.5% DV) while lamb brains have 1.73 mg (9.6% DV) of iron in a 3 oz serving.17 18 Pork brains offer up 1.55 mg per 3 oz (8.6% DV) in the same serving.19.
- A serving of pork chop: 0.91 mg of iron (5% DV)
- A serving of pork spare ribs: 1.57 mg of iron (8.7% DV)
Pork has a little less iron than beef or lamb but may still be worth exploring once in a while. You should get between 0.5 mg and 1.5 mg of iron per 3 oz serving on average – that’s 3% to 8.3% DV.20 For instance, a 3 oz serving of braised pork chop has 0.91 mg of iron (5% DV).21 Some cuts like pork spare ribs have a little more – 1.57 mg of iron or 8.7% DV in a 3 oz serving.22 You can fall back on a good roast pork belly or pork chops or make a fresh spicy Thai pork salad.
10. Seafood, Chicken, And Duck
If you’re seeking out alternative heme sources of iron, here are some more you can add to your list. Each of the following values is for a 3 oz serving.
- Eastern oysters: 8 mg iron (44% DV)23
- Octopus: 8.11 mg iron (45% DV)24
- Clams: 2.39 mg of iron (13.2% DV)25
- Atlantic sardines canned in oil: 2 mg iron (11% DV)26
- Roast duck meat without the skin: 3.78 mg of iron (21% DV)27
- Chicken or turkey: 1 mg of iron (6% DV)28
|↑1||Increase Your Iron Intake. Dietitians of Canada.|
|↑2, ↑9, ↑23, ↑26, ↑28||Iron. Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑3||Labeling Daily Values. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑4||Basic Report: 17196, Lamb, variety meats and by-products, kidneys, cooked, braised. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑5||Basic Report: 13324, Beef, variety meats and by-products, kidneys, cooked, simmered. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑6||Basic Report: 10107, Pork, fresh, variety meats and by-products, kidneys, cooked, braised. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑7||Iron. Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑8||Lamb, variety meats and by-products, liver, cooked, pan-fried. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑10||Beef, flank, steak, separable lean and fat, trimmed to 0” fat, choice, cooked, braised. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑11||Game meat, moose, cooked, roasted. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑12||Basic Report: 17345, Game meat, deer, loin, separable lean only, 1” steak, cooked, broiled. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑13||Basic Report: 17225, Lamb, ground, cooked, broiled. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑14||Basic Report: 13497, Beef, ground, 70% lean meat / 30% fat, patty, cooked, broiled. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑15, ↑20, ↑24||Food Sources of Iron. Dietitians of Canada.|
|↑16||Basic Report: 17060, Lamb, domestic, cubed for stew or kabob (leg and shoulder), separable lean only, trimmed to 1/4” fat, cooked, braised. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑17||Beef, variety meats and by-products, brain, cooked, pan-fried. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑18||Lamb, variety meats and by-products, brain, cooked, pan-fried. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑19||Pork, fresh, variety meats and by-products, brain, cooked, braised. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑21||Pork, fresh, loin, whole, separable lean and fat, cooked, braised. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑22||Pork, fresh, spareribs, separable lean and fat, cooked, braised. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑25||Basic Report: 15159, Mollusks, clam, mixed species, cooked, moist heat. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|
|↑27||Duck, domesticated, meat only, cooked, roasted. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.|