Eating iron-rich: this is how it works

The trace element iron is important for blood formation and thus for the supply of our body with oxygen and nutrients. It is present in numerous foods, which makes it possible to meet increased requirements through diet, for example during pregnancy.

Meat eaters in particular have it easy: Meat not only contains a lot of the trace element. The iron found in the animal product is also available in a special, so-called divalent form, which our body can absorb particularly well.

“Dark red meat such as beef, veal and game as well as offal are ideal sources of iron for our bodies,” explains nutritionist Christine Leicht from the Interdisciplinary Center for Dietetics and Nutritional Medicine at the Ludwig Maximilians University Hospital in Munich. “If it is to be poultry, duck is particularly suitable. Egg yolk is also an animal product that provides iron, namely around 1.3 milligrams per piece.”

Iron content of various types of meat

(Source: Heseker / Heseker (2018/19). The nutritional table. Neustadt an der Weinstrasse: Neuer Umschau Buchverlag)

  Iron content in mg / 100 g
 deer 3.2
Leg of venison 3 Leg of
 lamb 2.5 Duck
 breast 2.4 Beef
 fillet 2.3
 Pork schnitzel 1.8
 Chicken wings with skin 1.3
 Turkey breast 1

Iron in plant-based foods, on the other hand, occurs in a different form, the so-called trivalent form and must first be converted by the body before it can be absorbed. “Other foods can influence, inhibit or promote this process,” explains Leicht. While vitamin C increases iron absorption, tannins from tea, coffee or red wine, for example, can hinder the extraction of the trace element from food.

Examples of substances and foods that inhibit the absorption of iron from plant-based foods:

  • Phytate found in grains, rice, soy, and legumes
  • Tannin in black and green tea, red wine, coffee
  • Phosphate, for example, in cola drinks or as an additive in various foods
  • Oxalic acid, for example in rhubarb and spinach

Getting a good iron supply as a vegetarian is a bit more complicated, but also possible.

Examples of plant-based foods with plenty of iron per 100 grams:

© dpa Picture Alliance / digifoodstocklenses
© Fotolia / Harshal

The following tips can help vegetarians:

1) Eat iron-rich plant foods like legumes, green vegetables, nuts, kernels, and seeds daily.

2) Use whole grain products where possible. These contain more iron. Pay attention to sourdough bread for bread.

3) Combine vitamin C or acidic foods such as citric or lactic acid with the food – this increases the absorption of iron from plant foods. How it works: For example, drink a glass of orange juice with your meal, eat vegetables such as peppers or tomatoes with it, mix fresh fruit with the muesli or add some lemon juice to the salad dressing.

4) Soak grains and legumes – this will lose these phytates that inhibit iron absorption.


  • Fish pot “Nice”
  • Lamb steak on millet vegetables
  • Pasta with bean sauce
  • Pasta with orange spinach and saithe
  • Quinoa muesli with fresh berries
  • Beef steak with chanterelle and leek vegetables
  • Spinach strudel with feta and paprika sauce
  • Warm pumpkin salad with chanterelles

Overall, the following applies: If the body notices that it has too little iron available, it takes it in more from food. In this way he counteracts a deficiency himself. Unfortunately, that’s not always enough. If the doctor determines an anemia due to an iron deficiency , the body’s needs could no longer be met despite all compensatory measures. Then the causes must be clarified and remedied. If necessary, the doctor will prescribe iron supplements from the pharmacy to quickly compensate for the deficiency. Because only with enough iron can the optimal supply of the body with vital oxygen be guaranteed.

Important: Healthy people do not need to be afraid of consuming too much iron from normal foods. “Only alcoholics and people with iron storage disease ( hemochromatosis) are at risk in this regard,” says Leicht. You should not overdo it when it comes to meat consumption, as too much meat and sausage products can presumably promote other diseases.

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