A diet plan for iron deficiency anemia needs to include both heme and non-heme iron-rich foods, such as meat, poultry, seafood, beans, and green, leafy vegetables. It will also include foods that improve iron absorption and avoid those that may interfere with this process.
Iron deficiency anemia occurs when your body does not have enough iron to form healthy red blood cells.
Iron deficiency anemia has a number of causes, but is most commonly the result of inadequate dietary intake and/or blood loss.
A person with iron deficiency anemia will typically receive oral iron supplementation or intravenous (IV) iron treatment. People with iron deficiency anemia are also encouraged to increase their dietary intake of iron by prioritizing iron-rich foods.
Anemia can result from many factors, including a lack of iron in the diet and heavy menstruation.
Bleeding in the stomach and intestines can also cause iron deficiency anemia. This type of bleeding is sometimes a side effect of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Or it may result from:
Certain people are at greater risk for developing iron deficiency anemia. They include pregnant people, those with certain medical conditions such as Crohn’s disease, people who have undergone bariatric surgery, people with heavy menstrual periods, and those who follow a vegan diet.
In these cases, doctors usually advise people to take iron supplements.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of iron depends on a person’s age and sex. A baby younger than 6 months only requires
During pregnancy, a person should increase their daily iron intake to 27 mg a day.
People with iron deficiency anemia need a significant boost and require 150–200 mg of iron a day, or 2–5 mg per kilogram of their body weight.
However, dosage recommendations vary, as the body does not absorb high doses of iron supplements efficiently. A person should consult with their doctor to decide on a suitable dose of extra iron.
Many foods contain
Fruits and vegetables
- curly kale and other varieties
- collard greens
- dandelion greens
- Swiss chard
- citrus fruits
- red and yellow peppers
However, some dark, leafy greens also contain oxalates, which can inhibit iron absorption. Rather than relying solely on vegetables, a person should aim to get iron from a variety of sources.
Nuts and seeds
- pumpkin seeds
- hemp seeds
- pine nuts
- sunflower seeds
Meat and fish
Beans and legumes
- kidney beans
- black-eyed peas
- pinto beans
- black beans
- lima beans
It may be a good idea to choose iron-fortified cereals, bread products, orange juice, rice, and pasta. Also, fermented and sprouted grains and legumes are a better choice for people with iron deficiency because sprouting and fermenting break down anti-nutrient compounds that negatively impact iron absorption.
The following compounds may interfere with iron absorption:
- Calcium: Although calcium is an essential nutrient, consuming more than 300-600 mg can interfere with iron absorption. Foods containing calcium include dairy foods, certain fish, tofu, and figs.
- Phosvitin: This is an iron-inhibiting phosphoprotein contained in eggs. One source states that one egg can reduce a person’s iron absorption by as much as 28%. However,
a 2022 studyfound that one egg a day had no impact on iron.
- Coffee, cocoa, and tea: Swedish cocoa and certain teas can reduce iron absorption by as much as 90%, and coffee can reduce it by as much as 60%.
A person should not avoid these foods entirely because they are important for a balanced diet, but it may be a good idea to consult with a doctor or registered dietician.
Adding iron-rich foods to the diet can help treat anemia. A healthcare professional can advise about the kinds of foods to choose from and other ways to increase iron absorption.
The best diet for a person with anemia includes plenty of foods rich in iron and other foods that help the body absorb iron. A person should also be aware of foods that can inhibit iron absorption.
The plan below was developed to show the type of healthy meals a person with anemia might include:
Unsweetened oatmeal made with sprouted oats topped with raspberries or hemp seeds. Enjoy with a glass of iron-fortified orange juice.
Breakfast hash made with chickpeas, chicken sausage, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and spinach.
Tea and coffee inhibit iron absorption, and people should not drink them with meals.
A bowl of beef chili, or a tuna burger, with a vegetable or legume side such as spinach, beans, or peas.
A bagel with smoked salmon, cream cheese, and spinach.
Lamb chops with boiled potatoes, steamed broccoli, and curly kale.
A stew that includes kidney beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, tinned tomatoes, onions, red peppers, and garlic, topped with vegan or dairy-based cheese and a dollop of vegan or dairy-based yogurt.
Although adding foods rich in iron to your diet can help raise blood levels of iron, most people with iron deficiency need to take supplemental iron to achieve healthy iron status.
Some people do not absorb iron well and may need to have
- Refrain from drinking tea or coffee with meals.
- Avoid eating foods rich in calcium with those rich in iron.
- Eat iron-rich foods alongside those rich in vitamin C.
If a person has tried changing their diet and their iron levels remain low, they should speak with a doctor or dietitian, who may recommend a supplement.
Healthcare professionals often recommend choosing a supplement containing ferrous salts such as ferrous fumarate, ferrous gluconate, or ferrous sulfate. Iron dosage recommendations vary. A person’s doctor will determine the most effective form and dose of iron based on their needs.
The following are frequently asked questions about anemia.
What is the fastest way to cure anemia?
What drinks are good for anemia?
Since vitamin C can help with iron absorption, orange juice and other beverages that contain it such as smoothies are good choice. Other juices that have a higher concentration of iron include
Learn more about drinks that can increase iron absorption.
How do you deal with anemia fatigue?
Making sure to get enough sleep and eat a balanced diet containing foods with iron can help a person reduce anemia-related fatigue. Iron supplements can also help.
People with iron deficiency anemia can benefit from adding iron to their diet. The foods and strategies listed above can help a person to manage the condition.
Eating certain dark, leafy greens, meat, seafood, beans, nuts, and seeds can help a person to boost their iron intake.
Iron supplements can benefit people who do not receive enough iron from their diets. It is essential to follow dosage instructions carefully.