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Home > Learn > Nutrition > >Iron Rich Foods for Pregnancy

Iron Rich Foods for Pregnancy

Jul 28, 23 5 min

By OBGYN Dr. Kenosha Gleaton

Pregnancy increases the need for many important vitamins and minerals, including iron. Keep reading to learn more about iron intake, anemia, and iron rich foods that are safe to eat during pregnancy. 

Why Is Iron so Important During Pregnancy?

Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, which is a red blood cell that moves oxygen through our body. [1] This is extremely important as we need oxygen to help break down our food, produce energy, and keep all of our cells functioning properly. [1] During pregnancy, the body relies on hemoglobin to carry oxygen to the growing baby. [2] The amount of blood present in the body also increases greatly during pregnancy, nearly doubling the amount of iron needed.  [2] This increased need for iron puts many pregnant people at risk of iron-deficiency anemia, a condition in which there aren’t enough red blood cells in the body. Iron-deficiency anemia is just one type of anemia and occurs when someone doesn’t get enough iron in their diet. [3] Iron deficiency is seen in up to 52% of pregnant people and can lead to some negative health effects when not treated. Some potential complications include [3]:

  • Preterm delivery
  • Low birth weight
  • Developmental problems

How Much Iron Do I Need During Pregnancy?

As previously mentioned, the amount of iron needed per day increases by about 50% during pregnancy. When not pregnant, the recommended dietary allowance for iron is about 18 mg for people assigned female at birth ages 19 to 50. [1] During pregnancy, the recommended dietary allowance increases to 27 mg per day. [1-2] Read more about the Importance of iron During Pregnancy → 

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency

If you are concerned about your iron levels, you should speak with a healthcare provider about getting your blood tested. Those that are iron deficient, anemic, or have low iron levels may experience the following [1,3]:

  • Fatigue
  • Chills or cold hands and feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Sore tongue
  • Pale or easily bruised skin
  • Headache
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness

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Which Pregnancy Safe Foods are High in Iron?

So how can you increase your iron intake during pregnancy? Not only do most healthcare providers recommend a prenatal multivitamin with iron, but you can also increase your dietary iron intake by adding in various meats, eggs, vegetables, grains, etc. [1-2] It is important to note that non-meat foods only contain nonheme iron, which differs from heme iron, but we’ll touch on this more later. Here are some of the best pregnancy safe food sources for iron.

Meat

There are a lot of meat options that contain iron [4]:

  • Three ounces of cooked beef liver contains about 5 mg
  • One medium ground beef patty contains 2 mg
  • A three ounce serving of prime rib steak contains 2.1 mg
  • One chicken breast contains about 2 mg 
  • Six ounces of lean pork chops contain about 1.2 mg 

Most meat sources are considered safe during pregnancy, although it is recommended that pregnant people avoid raw meats and some deli meats. [5] 

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is another very rich source of iron. Milk chocolates can sometimes contain a lot of sugar and additives, but chocolate containing less sugar and more cacao (70% to 85%) can be packed with many important nutrients. [4] One ounce of dark chocolate contains anywhere from 1.5 mg to 3.5 mg. [4] Dark chocolate is considered safe during pregnancy, although it does contain some caffeine, so be sure to keep track of how much you’re eating. [6] 

Eggs

Eggs are another great nutritious food during pregnancy that provide a protein boost. Two scrambled eggs contain about 2.5 mg of iron. [1,4] Properly handled and cooked eggs are safe to consume during pregnancy. [5] 

Beans

Beans are another great source of iron [1]:

  • One cup of white beans contains 8 mg
  • One cup of lentils contains 6 mg
  • One cup of kidney beans contains 4 mg
  • One cup of chickpeas contains 4 mg

Fortified Foods, Grains, Nuts, and More

There are countless other sources of iron. Fortified foods such as breakfast cereals can actually contain some of the highest amounts of iron, with up to 18 mg per serving. Some other options include [1]:

  • A half cup of spinach contains 3 mg
  • A half cup of firm tofu contains 3 mg
  • A half cup of canned and stewed tomatoes contains 2 mg
  • A medium potato contains 2 mg
  • One serving of cashew nuts contains 2 mg
  • One serving of peas, rice, bread, spaghetti, turkey, and broccoli all contain around 1 mg

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Heme and Non-Heme Iron

As previously mentioned, there are two different types of iron found in the diet: heme and non-heme iron. The body is able to more easily absorb heme iron, which is primarily found in meat, poultry, and eggs. [1] Non-heme iron is primarily found in plants, iron-fortified foods, grains, etc. The body can still absorb non-heme iron, however it’s best absorbed when eaten with iron absorption enhancers, such as citrus, berries, broccoli, tomatoes, and other fruits or vegetables. [1,7] Some foods can also decrease iron absorption, making it more difficult for your body to use the iron you’re consuming. Foods that can negatively impact iron absorption include dairy products, soy products, coffee, and some teas. [7] 

Natalist Iron Supplements

It can be difficult to consume the recommended amounts for all of your vital nutrients through diet alone. This is where some vitamins and supplements may be able to help. Iron is available in many dietary supplements, including Natalist Prenatal Daily Packets packed with 27 mg of iron and 20 other vegan, high-quality ingredients. If you’re more of a gummy vitamin person, Prenatal Gummies contain 2 mg of iron and can be paired with Iron tablets. If you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider about your current diet and supplement routine. 


Sources

  1.  Iron- Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. NIH. June 15 2023. URL
  2. Nutrition During Pregnancy. FAQ001. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. May 2023. URL.
  3. Anemia During Pregnancy. Cleveland Clinic. May 26 2022. URL
  4. My Food Data. Nutrition Facts Search Tool. URL
  5. Taylor M, Galanis E. Food safety during pregnancy. Can Fam Physician. 2010;56(8):750-751.
  6. Di Renzo GC, Brillo E, Romanelli M, et al. Potential effects of chocolate on human pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2012;25(10):1860-1867. doi:10.3109/14767058.2012.683085
  7. Ems T, St Lucia K, Huecker MR. Biochemistry, Iron Absorption. [Updated 2023 Apr 17]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448204/

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