wikiHow to Follow Dietary Requirements for an Anemic

Two Parts:Following an Iron-Rich DietIdentifying Anemia

Iron is one of the basic components of hemoglobin, a substance which helps red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. If you are iron deficient, your body has trouble producing hemoglobin, and this can lead to a disorder called anemia, wherein there is not enough hemoglobin in your blood.[1] When a person becomes anemic (has anemia) due to an iron deficiency, an iron-rich diet is one of the ways a doctor may suggest helping raise iron levels in the body.

Part 1
Following an Iron-Rich Diet

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    Research how much iron you need. The daily value of iron you need depends on several factors, including age and sex.[2] Too much iron can be toxic, so it’s still important to follow the necessary daily values when switching to an iron-rich diet.
    • Males and females between 9–13 years old: 8 mg
    • Males 14–18: 11 mg
    • Females 14–18: 15 mg
    • Males 19–50: 8 mg
    • Females 19–50: 18 mg
    • Males and females 51+: 8 mg
    • Pregnant females 14-50: 27 mg[3]
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    Add iron-rich meats to your diet. Meat is a great source of heme iron, which is iron derived from hemoglobin that is found in animal-based foods.[4] Though non-heme (plant-based) iron is more common in most diets, our bodies more easily absorb iron from heme sources.[5] Beef and poultry can both be great sources of heme iron.
    • A six-ounce sirloin steak will contain about 3.2 mg of iron.[6]
    • Beef or chicken liver or giblets are also great sources with anywhere from 5–9 mg in a three-ounce serving.[7]
    • When it comes to poultry, duck is your best source of iron with 2.3 mg in a three-ounce serving,[8] and turkey is a close second with roughly 2.1 mg in a three-ounce serving.[9]
    • This is one reason why vegetarians and vegans tend to suffer low iron levels: they do not consume meat and thus often have low iron levels. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, it is essential that you compensate by eating iron-rich vegetables.
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    Eat more seafood. Certain seafood options are also very rich in heme iron. These options also have the added bonus of being high in protein and low in fat.[10] Seafood is a great source of protein for vegetarians who are open to eating fish.
    • Clams and oysters are some of the most iron-rich foods you will find at approximately 23 mg and 10 mg, respectively, in a three-ounce serving.[11]
    • Three ounces of mollusks or mussels each contain approximately 3.5 mg of iron.[12]
    • A three-ounce serving of sardines canned in oil contains around 2.1 mg of iron,[13] and tuna, mackerel, and haddock are also good sources of iron at about 0.7 mg of iron per serving.[14][15]
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    Add more beans to your diet. Though non-heme iron isn’t as readily absorbed by your body, you can still get plenty of iron from plant-based sources, and beans are a great one. One cup of cooked beans will average around 3.5 mg of iron.[16]
    • White beans are some of the highest sources of iron at 3.9 mg in 1/2 cup.[17]
    • Some other great beans options for iron offer around 2.1 mg in just 1/2 cup. These options include kidney beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), and lima beans.[18][19]
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    Add some tofu or soybeans to your diet. Vegetarians and vegans can still pump up the iron in their diets because tofu is also a great source for non-heme iron. Just 1/2 cup of tofu can contain as much as 3.5 mg of iron.[20][21]
    • Cooked soybeans (such as edamame) can contain even more with up to 4.4 mg with 1/2 cup.[22]
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    Eat plenty of dark, leafy greens. They contain high levels of iron. Spinach, kale, and collards are some of the best options for non-heme iron.[23] Spinach, for instance, offers around 3.2 mg of iron in 1/2 cup.[24] Leafy greens also offer a great variety of ways to prepare them from salads to adding them to smoothies.
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    Eat high-energy foods such as pulses and seeds. Sprouted seeds and pulses are even better for you. For instance, one ounce of pumpkin, sesame, or squash seeds can contain as much as 4.2 mg of non-heme iron.[25]
    • If you prefer sunflower seeds, they aren’t as iron rich, but you’ll still receive 0.7 mg of iron per ounce.[26]
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    Look for fortified options. Many breakfast cereals and other bran and oat products are fortified with iron, making them other great options for adding iron to a deficient diet.[27] Check the labels on the specific product to see how much iron per serving it includes.
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    Take iron supplements. Iron supplements are also available to help round out an iron-rich diet. However, always consult a doctor before adding an iron supplement to ensure you don’t end up absorbing too much iron in your daily regimen since your daily value is the combination of the supplement and the iron contained in the foods you eat.[28]
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    Consider vitamin supplements. Some vitamins and minerals will not be absorbed correctly without their partners. For example, iron is absorbed more efficiently alongside vitamin C, and iron absorption is slowed by calcium consumption. Vegetarians need to take vitamin B12, which is needed for iron absorption. A vegetarian diet does not provide an adequate amount of B12.
    • Iron supplements can cause gastric upset. Take iron supplements with food or at night prior to going to sleep.
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    Avoid food and drink options that block iron absorption. Tea and coffee contain polyphenols that block iron absorption.[29] Other iron-blocking foods include calcium-rich ones such as dairy products.[30]
    • You don’t have to avoid these options altogether, but do not have them at the same time as iron-rich foods.
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    Eat oranges or drink orange juice while taking iron tablets (ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, etc). The vitamin C contained in these options helps aids the absorption of iron.[31][32]
    • This is especially important for those relying primarily on non-heme sources of iron since the vitamin C makes it easier for the body to absorb.[33]

Part 2
Identifying Anemia

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    Examine your risk for anemia. Anyone can develop iron-deficiency anemia, and roughly 20% of women (and 50% of pregnant women) and 3% of men are iron deficient.[34] Some groups are also at a greater risk for developing anemia. These groups include:[35]
    • Women (due to blood loss during monthly periods and childbirth).
    • Those 65+, who are more likely to have low-iron diets.
    • People on blood thinners such as aspirin, Plavix, Coumadin, or heparin.
    • Those with kidney failure, especially if they are on dialysis, because they have trouble making red blood cells.
    • People who have trouble absorbing iron.
    • People with low-iron diets (often vegans and vegetarians).
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    Identify symptoms of anemia. The major symptoms of anemia include feeling tired, difficulty breathing, dizziness, headache, irritability, pale skin, trouble concentrating, and feeling cold.[36][37]
    • Other signs may include rapid heartbeat, brittle nails, cracked lips, sore tongue, muscle pain during exercise, and trouble swallowing.[38]
    • Babies and small children who are iron deficient may have delays in skills such as walking and talking, not grow as expected, and have short attention spans.[39]
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    See your doctor. If you are experiencing several of these symptoms—especially if you belong to one of the demographics with increased risk of anemia—then see your doctor for the proper tests to determine if iron-deficient anemia is the cause. It is important to see your doctor because he or she may have special instructions in addition to eating an iron-rich diet.


  • Iron from heme sources is absorbed by the body 2-3 times more efficiently than iron from non-heme sources.[40]


  • Daily iron intake should never exceed 45 mg each day.[41] Too much iron in your diet can lead to iron toxicity. Always consult with your physician before switching to a diet higher in iron, especially if you plan to include an iron supplement as well.

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