What is the High/Low Iron Diet

Our diets need iron to function.  Iron is a mineral that is essential, and it is found in red blood cells.  The primary role of iron is carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. The body's cells will not function normally if it does not have enough iron.

When the body's iron stores become too low, anemia from iron-deficiency may occur. Iron deficiency results from too little iron in the body and it is the leading cause of anemia.  Anemia is on the rise in our country.  Anemia symptoms include weakness, lethargy, muscle fatigue, dizziness, headaches, easy bruising and shortness of breath. You may also be more sensitive to cold.  In more severe cases, a person's skin can also look pale due to the lack of iron.

Iron deficiency in adults is usually caused by heavy blood loss. However, this iron deficiency in children is usually the result of an inadequate iron intake.

On the flip side, your body can also take in too much iron.  There is a genetic disorder called hemochromatosis, which affects the body's ability to control how much iron is absorbed. This disorder leads to too much iron in the body.  In order to treat this disorder, a low-iron diet can be prescribed.

Daily Iron Recommendations

The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine recommends the following amounts of iron in the daily diet:

Infants and children

  • Younger than 6 months: 0.27 milligrams per day (mg/day)
  • 7 months to 1 year: 11 mg/day
  • 1 to 3 years: 7 mg/day
  • 4 to 8 years: 10 mg/day


  • 9 to 13 years: 8 mg/day
  • 14 to 18 years: 11 mg/day
  • Age 19 and older: 8 mg/day


  • 9 to 13 years: 8 mg/day
  • 14 to 18 years: 15 mg/day
  • 19 to 50 years: 18 mg/day
  • 51 and older: 8 mg/day

What Experts Say about the High/Low Iron Diet

Dr. Jackson, an expert on nutrition and gastroenterology, says it is more important for women to adhere to an iron increasing diet than it is for men.  Since women tend to eat less, he says, it makes it more difficult for them to meet their iron needs, so they should be conscious of eating more foods that are high in iron.

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD agrees.  She says that a diet high in iron is “one of the best ways to help treat it [iron deficiency anemia]”. She also recommends taking a supplement along with adding these iron-rich foods to your diet.

Iron Inhibitors

Some foods and ingredients inhibit the body's ability to absorb iron.  Even though some of these foods do contain iron, if you eat them with other iron-rich foods, you may not get the full amount of iron from the meal.  These inhibitors include red wine, coffee, black tea, bran, soy products, some whole grains, spinach, chard, beet greens, rhubarb, and sweet potatoes.  It is important to remember that you should not eat these sources with other foods that are high in iron.

Great Sources of Iron

The foods that are highest in iron, and with the iron that is most easily absorbed, are:

  • Dried beans
  • Dried fruits
  • Egg yolks
  • Iron-fortified cereals
  • Liver
  • Lean red meat
  • Oysters
  • Poultry
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Whole grains

Iron from vegetables, fruits, grains, and supplements are harder for the body to absorb, but can still be beneficial to the body.  These sources include:

  • Prunes
  • Raisins
  • Apricots
  • Legumes
  • Lima beans
  • Soybeans
  • Dried beans and peas
  • Kidney beans
  • Almonds
  • Brazil nuts
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Collards
  • Asparagus
  • Dandelion greens
  • Wheat
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Brown rice

A diet aimed at increasing iron in the body should include as many of the above mentioned foods as possible, including a good iron supplement.

Sample High/Low Iron Diet Meal Plan


  • Oatmeal fortified with iron


  • Salad with sunflower seeds, almonds, peppers, cauliflower, and beans


  • Lean beef with vegetables


  • Dried fruit and trail mix
Last Updated: Tuesday, February 7, 2012