5 Unique and Unexpected Foods Packed with Iron

Iron is an essential mineral that is critical for many of the body's functions. It is needed to make proteins, such as hemoglobin and myoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein present in red blood cells that carries oxygen from our lungs to our tissues, while myoglobin helps supply oxygen to our muscles.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), men over the age of 19 have a recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 8 mg of iron. Premenopausal women have a much greater iron requirement than men. Women aged 19-50 have an RDA of 18 mg. After age 50, the number falls in line with men at 8 mg/day. Requirements are different for children under 18, as well as for pregnant or lactating women.

Eating the following 5 foods packed with iron, together with sources of vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, will improve your body's absorption of iron. For more information iron in a plant-based diet, read this article.

 1. Dark Chocolate and Cocoa Powder

Attention chocolate lovers! Dark chocolate (70-85% cacao solids) contains more iron, ounce for ounce, than beef - a lot more! A 3 oz. portion of cooked ground beef (70% lean meat, 30% fat) contains 2.11 mg of iron, while 3 oz. of dark chocolate boasts 10.12 mg. Chocolate pairs beautifully with oranges, so this is an easy way to group your iron and vitamin C consumption for maximum absorption. 

2. Dried Fruit

 Dried fruit is a somewhat unexpected source of dietary iron. Dried peach halves contain the most iron with 6.50 mg/cup, followed by prunes, apricot halves and raisins. Make sure to find dried fruit that has no sugar added. Better yet - dehydrate your own fruit! Dried peaches and apricots are amazing when dipped in melted dark chocolate and allowed to cool. 

3. Blackstrap Molasses

Blackstrap molasses is a healthy sweetener. Like dark chocolate, it also kicks red meat's butt when it comes to iron. Just 2 tsp. of molasses contains 2.39 mg of iron, for far less calories than meat and no fat. 

4. Spirulina

Spirulina, one of nature's great superfoods, is a blue-green algae that grows in fresh water lakes. It is a complete protein, contains a significant amount of B12, as well as vitamins A through E and is rich in iron, calcium and magnesium. A tablespoon of dried spirulina contains 2 mg of iron. Try this Coconut Spirulina Energy Drink or simply throw it into the blender with your regular morning smoothie.

5. Tofu

Tofu proves its worth once again, with 2.15 mg of iron for a quarter-block serving. From silken tofu to extra firm, the possibilities to include it in your diet are nearly endless. Just make sure your are purchasing tofu made with non-GMO soybeans .