15 Best Iron Rich Foods for Elderly
“15 Best Iron Rich Foods for Elderly” was written by dietetic intern Sarah Schiffer, BS & reviewed/edited by Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND. Sarah is working on becoming a dietitian and recently started her own blog trendynutritionist.com.
Why is Iron Important?
Iron is an essential mineral that our bodies need to survive. It serves various important functions for the human body.
Over 70% of your body’s iron is found in hemoglobin, which is a protein in your red blood cells that transfers oxygen from your lungs to the tissues in our bodies.
Benefits of Iron
Aside from playing an essential role in hemoglobin, iron has many other benefits that often go unnoticed.
Having enough iron in the body can reduce feelings of tiredness and exhaustion, improve muscle endurance, regulates body temperatures, improves concentration, and boosts immunity.
There are two primary types of iron: heme iron (found in animal foods) and non-heme iron (mostly found in plant foods). Our bodies absorb heme iron better than non-heme iron. But you can still get plenty of iron on a plant-based diet.
Risks Association with Iron
Iron overdoses are very rare. Most people are not consuming excessive amounts of iron. And if they are, our bodies, for the most part, store it for later use. Mega doses of iron are not recommended.
On the other hand, iron deficiency is relatively common. As we discussed earlier, iron plays an essential role in hemoglobin. Without enough iron, we won’t have enough healthy red blood cells for our bodies to transport oxygen to our tissues properly, which can lead to fatigue, and exhaustion.
A lack of red blood cells is called anemia.
What is Anemia?
Someone with anemia doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to help transport oxygen throughout the body.
The lack of oxygen in the body can cause fatigue and exhaustion. In turn, this can affect brain function, the immune system, lightheadedness, chest pain, and pale skin.
Anemia in the elderly population is especially dangerous. Older adults with anemia have twice the risk of experiencing physical decline. Which can ultimately affect their independence level.
Types of Anemia
The most common causes of anemia in elderly are anemia of inflammation/chronic disease and iron deficiency anemia. For the purpose of this article, we will be focusing on iron deficiency anemia.
Focus on Iron Deficiency Anemia
Iron deficiency anemia occurs when your body has a shortage of iron. Iron deficiency is associated with blood loss, poor diet, medications, and poor absorption. Laboratory tests are used to diagnose iron deficiency anemia.
Some people will need to take an iron supplement to correct anemia. For example, those who have anemia due to blood loss will probably need a supplement or more aggressive interventions.
However, some with mild anemia may be able to treat anemia naturally through their diet.
Best sure to work with your doctor to determine the best care plan for your individual situation.
Curing Anemia Naturally
Many people with iron deficiency anemia are interested in curing anemia naturally.
Meaning they don’t want to take an iron supplement if they don’t have to.
Iron supplements can cause constipation and other side effects which can be uncomfortable.
In some situations, an iron supplement is absolutely necessary for the health of the patient. However, in other cases iron deficiency anemia can be treated naturally by consuming iron rich foods.
In addition to consuming iron through food, try to use a cast iron skillet when cooking. This can add iron into your food which can help naturally treat anemia.
Good Diet for Anemia
The best diet for iron deficiency anemia is a diet high in iron rich foods. Below, well discuss some of the best iron rich foods for the elderly with iron deficiency anemia. Keep in mind that the body absorbs animal based iron foods the best.
Pairing iron with foods high in vitamin C can help to maximize absorption. This can be accomplished by drinking a glass of orange juice, having a piece of citrus fruit, or eating food fortified with vitamin C (like cereal) with your iron rich foods.
Some foods also make it harder for your body to absorb iron. Some of these foods actually contain iron, but our bodies just don’t absorb it well. Eating them with vitamin C can help to improve absorption.
Foods that decrease absorption of iron:
- Oxalic acid (found in spinach, chocolate)
- Tannins & Polyphenols (found in coffee & some teas)
- Phytate or Phytic Acid (found in wheat, legumes, beans)
- Phosvitin (found in egg yolks)
Iron Rich Foods for Elderly
Which is the best iron rich food for the elderly? There are a variety of foods to choose from, but below are some good iron rich food options. All the foods listed below are high in iron as well as other micronutrients needed to sustain your health!
List of Iron Rich Foods:
|Food||Serving Size||Est. Iron per Serving|
|Beef liver||3 ounces||15 mg|
|Rice Chex||1 cup||9.3 mg|
|Oysters||3 ounces||8 mg|
|Corn Flakes||1 cup||8 mg|
|Oatmeal||½ cup||7 mg|
|White Beans||½ cup||3.9 mg|
|Molasses||1 Tbsp||3.5 mg|
|Lentils||½ cup||3.3 mg|
|Beef||3 ounces||3 mg|
|Quinoa||1 cup||2.8 mg|
|Red Potatoes||1 large||2.7 mg|
|Tuna Fish||½ filet||2.5 mg|
|Prune Juice||6 ounces||2.3 mg|
|Clams||3 ounces||2.3 mg|
|Pumpkin Seeds||1 ounce||2.3 mg|
Tips: Heme iron (animal based) is easier to absorb than non-heme iron (plant based). Pair iron with vitamin C foods to maximize absorption.
15 Best Iron Rich Foods for Elderly
While many people shy away from liver, it is one of the best sources of iron.
Liver is also an excellent source of vitamin A which is a fat-soluble vitamin important for healthy vision and immune function.
3 ounces of beef liver provides 15 mg iron.
Fortified cereals contain iron. However, the exact amount of iron varies by brand.
Rice Chex is a cereal that contains a good amount of iron per serving.
1 cup of Rice Chex provides 9.3 mg iron.
All shellfish contain iron, but oysters have an excellent source of iron.
Shellfish is a great source of iron and is shown to increase the level of heart health HDL cholesterol in your blood.
3 ounces of oysters provides 8 mg iron.
Corn Flakes is another type of fortified cereal high in iron.
You can pair your bowl of cereal with a glass of orange juice (high in vitamin C) for maximum absorption.
1 cup of Corn Flakes provides 8 mg iron.
Fortified instant cooked cereals like oatmeal are great sources of iron.
Oatmeal can be served in a variety of ways (with different fruits, nuts, seeds, etc.) to prevent boredom with breakfast.
½ cup of cooked oatmeal provides 7 mg iron.
Beans have a great source of iron for vegans and meat-eaters as well.
They are very versatile and can be a nice enhancement to your meals! Be sure to pair beans with vitamin C foods for the best absorption.
Beans are also great for anyone of a tight budget since they are inexpensive.
½ cup of white beans provides 3.9 mg iron.
Molasses is a surprising add to this list, but it is a good source of iron.
Some people enjoy a spoonful of molasses. You can also add it to meat for additional flavor or stir it into some warm oatmeal.
1 Tbsp of molasses provides 3.5 mg iron.
Similar to beans, lentils are a great source of iron.
Lentils also offer some extra protein and fiber. They can be served as a side dish or incorporated into the main dish.
1/2 cup of lentils provides 3.3 mg iron.
Meat is one of the best sources of heme iron which is great for anyone that is anemic.
Meat also contains lots of essential vitamins making it a great protein choice for everyone.
3 ounces of beef provides 3 mg iron.
If you haven’t tried quinoa as a side dish, I highly recommend you try it!
Quinoa is a great source of whole grains, fiber, protein and iron making it a great addition to your plate!
1 cup of cooked quinoa provides 2.8 mg iron.
While white potatoes is a great source of iron, red potatoes have even more iron in them.
I love using the red potatoes as a side dish- season it with a little olive oil and your favorite spices and you have an easy and delicious side dish!
1 large red potato (3” to 4”) provides 2.7 mg iron.
Fish is a great source of heme iron.
There are so many options to choose from, all containing iron plus other essential vitamins. Fish is also proven to enhance immune function which is great for anyone anemic.
½ filet of tuna provides 2.5 mg iron.
Prune juice is another surprising source of iron.
It can also help to keep the bowels regular. A glass of prune juice with breakfast (or for a snack) is a great way to add some extra iron.
6 ounces of prune juice provides 2.3 mg iron.
We mentioned shellfish are great sources of iron, this includes clams.
You can serve clams in a variety of ways. A classic clam dish is good old clam chowder. This is a perfect option for cold winter months.
3 ounces of clams provides 2.3 mg iron.
I don’t know about you, but I have nuts and seeds daily!
They’re so nutritious and versatile. They are great additions to your smoothies, salads, or yogurts and also have a great source of iron.
1 ounce of pumpkin seeds provides 2.3 mg iron.
Iron Rich Foods for Elderly Conclusion
Hopefully this list of high iron foods gave you some ideas and inspiration for iron rich foods for elderly. There are more foods high in iron. The key is to find the iron rich foods you enjoy the best.
Be sure to work with your healthcare team for your individual health needs. Best of luck!
- Schechter AN. Hemoglobin research and the origins of molecular medicine. Blood. 2008 Nov 15;112(10):3927-38. https://ashpublications.org/blood/article/112/10/3927/24585/Hemoglobin-research-and-the-origins-of-molecular
- Short MW, Domagalski JE. Iron deficiency anemia: evaluation and management. American family physician. 2013 Jan 15;87(2):98-104. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23317073/
- Niedert KC, Carlson MP, editors. Nutrition Care of the Older Adult: A Handbook of Nutrition Throughout the Continuum of Care. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; 2016.
- Raymond JL, Morrow K. Krause and Mahan’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences; 2020 May 3.