A. Kelly Siverhus, a dietetic intern at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center, answers: “Adequate iron intake is essential for the transport of oxygen from the lungs to tissues and for biological functions including hormone synthesis and growth and development. Recommended iron intake for males ages 19 and older and females ages 51 and older is eight milligrams (mg) per day. For females ages 19 to 50 (premenopausal), the recommended intake is higher, at 18 mg per day.
“Red meat and other animal proteins, including poultry, eggs, fish, and shellfish, contain a readily absorbed form of iron called heme iron. Organ meats, like liver and giblets, are particularly high in heme iron.
“The other source of dietary iron, referred to as non-heme iron, is found in plant foods such as legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, greens, and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and enriched baked products. Non-heme iron is not absorbed as efficiently as heme iron, but vegetarians and vegans can get adequate iron if they eat a variety of these whole plant foods. Pairing plant sources of iron like beans, lentils, tofu, whole grains, and greens with a source of vitamin C like citrus, strawberries, or peppers enhances non-heme iron absorption.”