Last Updated on December 27, 2020
Iron deficiency anemia is a common medical condition and can become an even bigger concern during pregnancy.
In fact, almost 50% of pregnant women are at risk for anemia (source: PMC).
Iron is a very beneficial nutrient because it helps to carry oxygen through the body, which is vital for a healthy pregnancy.
Supplements work, but a diet full of iron-rich foods is even better.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that pregnant women aim to consume 30-60 milligrams of elemental iron per day throughout their pregnancy between food and supplementation (WHO).
Iron can be found in a multitude of foods, including both animal and plant products.
We will review some of the top iron-rich foods and also give you some ideas on how to incorporate them into your pregnancy-friendly diet. The foods are in order of iron content.
Plus, if you’re following a plant-based diet, no worries! We will also review the best plant-based iron-rich foods for pregnant vegetarian moms.
Maybe there is a new food on this list that you haven’t tried before, or maybe there’s something you can easily eat more of.
The Foods Containing The Most Iron for Pregnant Women
These are all great iron-rich foods to incorporate into your prenatal meals:
1. Canned Baby Clams
Iron content: Up to an average of 30 milligrams per 3.5 ounces/100 grams (Journal of Food Composition)
Clams are very low in mercury, so they are safe to consume during pregnancy. We have a full article on fresh clams and pregnancy safety right here.
If you’re eating them for their iron intake, you should choose canned over fresh. Canned clams are cooked and sterilized, so are pregnancy-safe too.
Bear in mind that the iron content of canned clams can vary wildly, but one study noted that whole baby clams were far higher in iron than other varieties (source: ResearchGate), so opt for these where you can.
Just one serving of baby canned clams can provide half of your daily dose of iron during pregnancy. They are also full of protein (almost 20 grams per serving) and are low in fat.
An easy way to incorporate clams is by making pasta with tomato-based clam sauce, or even a cioppino stew with various fish and seafood.
If you made this sauce in a cast-iron skillet, it could increase the iron level even further (source: Columbia University)
The added Vitamin C from the tomatoes also helps your body to better absorb iron, so eating clams with tomatoes can boost your iron intake even more (source: Journal of Food and Function).
- Chicken livers; 12.6 milligrams per 3.5 ounces/100 grams
- Lamb livers; 10.2 milligrams per 3.5 ounces/100 grams
- Turkey livers; 9 milligrams per 3.5 ounces/100 grams
- Beef liver; 6.6 milligrams per 3.5 ounces/100 grams
Source: USDA Food Database
There is some controversy over consuming liver during pregnancy.
In the UK, it’s not recommended because of the risk of consuming too much retinol – a form of Vitamin A (source: NHS)
In the US, though, most practitioners say that small amounts of liver are OK.
For Vitamin A toxicity to become an issue, you’d have to eat a lot of liver over a long period of time for the Vitamin A to build up in your body high enough to risk harm to you or your baby.
If you want to eat liver in moderation every now and again, that is likely safe.
Not only is liver high in iron, but it’s also a great source of protein, B vitamins, folate (which is very important during pregnancy), and potassium (source: USDA).
Livers could be chopped up and sauteed with onions, carrots, and potatoes for a hearty breakfast hash.
Or, they could simply be roasted along with other animal parts and eaten with a side of vegetables for a rustic, filling meal.
Beef liver is commonly sliced thin, pan-fried, and served with onions and a savory gravy.
Plus it’s common to consume the liver and gizzards from a bird (chicken or turkey) during the holidays; the livers can be finely chopped and incorporated into stuffing or gravy.
It’s best not to eat liver when it’s in a pate during pregnancy – because the way pate is made isn’t safe for pregnant women. You can read more about pate during pregnancy in our separate guide.
3. Iron-fortified Bran Cereal
Iron Content: 11 milligrams per one cup serving (Source: Nutritionix)
Many kinds of cereal are fortified with iron, meaning iron was added during production.
Fortification does mean that some processing has been done to the food, which is why a whole wheat cereal is best; you’ll get the most nutrition from whole wheat cereals compared to processed rice or corn cereals.
Adding milk will boost protein, but it’s important to note that calcium in milk can actually inhibit your body from absorbing iron (Source: Cambridge University).
So, adding cereal as part of an iron-rich diet can help boost your iron intake, but shouldn’t be your main source of iron.
Iron Content: Average of 15 milligrams per 3.5 ounces/100 grams (Source: Nutritionix)
Oysters are commonly consumed raw (on the half shell), but raw seafood is not safe for pregnant women, as there is a risk for foodborne illness.
However, the iron content in oysters is so great that they shouldn’t be completely eliminated from your diet during pregnancy.
A delicious, hearty oyster stew would be a great way to incorporate oysters into your diet during pregnancy; just make sure that they are thoroughly cooked before you consume.
We have a separate guide to oysters, including all the safety considerations you need when you’re eating them for their iron content during pregnancy.
5. Instant Grits
Iron Content: 8.5 milligrams per 28g pack / serving (Source: NutritionData)
Grits, or ground corn, is a popular breakfast porridge eaten in the southern United States.
You can also have them in savory dishes, such as shrimp and grits, or cheesy grits. They can be used in similar ways to polenta.
They are fortified with iron, and are also a great source of fiber and carbohydrates.
They don’t have much flavor on their own, but might be great for pregnant moms who need something bland, especially when morning sickness hits.
Iron Content: 6.7 milligrams per 3.5 ounces/100 grams (Source: NZ Nutrition Foundation)
Mussels are inexpensive, packed with nutrition, and super tasty.
They are a great iron source and are also one of the only animal food sources that contain Vitamin C.
They are safe to consume during pregnancy, as long as they are thoroughly cooked and from a trusted source.
We have a page dedicated to eating mussels safely when pregnant, with more tips on mussels and their safety and benefits.
Mussels can be steamed with garlic and butter and eaten with fresh bread, or tossed with tomatoes and pasta for an easy, delicious dinner.
Iron Content: 6.27 milligrams per average sandwich serving (Source: USDA)
Liverwurst is a blend of liver, meat, and spices, formed into the shape of a sausage. It can be eaten on a toast or spread on crackers.
During pregnancy, if you want to consume liverwurst, it’s recommended to eat no more than one serving (about 100 grams) per week.
Additionally, it would be important to make sure it’s heated so that any bacteria would be destroyed.
Liverwurst is a great source of iron, protein, and other nutrients.
It’s important to note that because liverwurst is processed, it does have more sodium that may be recommended if you are trying to follow a low sodium diet during pregnancy.
Additionally, liverwurst in spreadable form should only be eaten if it’s pasteurized.
You might also be interested in our guide to all types of sausage when you’re pregnant, including sliced sausage meat like liverwurst.
We also have a complete deli meat safety guide for you, too.
8. Beef Steak
Iron Content: 5.7 milligrams per 3.5 ounces/100 grams (Source: Diet & Fitness Today)
Steak comes from beef, and can refer to any cut from a cow.
It’s a great source of heme-iron, protein, and other vitamins and minerals.
It’s important to make sure the beef is cooked well, as it is not safe for pregnant women to consume raw or undercooked beef.
Whether you’re eating out or making a steak for yourself at home, you’ll need our guide to eating steak when pregnant which has cooking temperatures, safety info, and much more.
9. Cream of Wheat
Iron Content: 5.2 milligrams per ½ cup (Source: Cream of Wheat)
This is a popular hot cereal in the United States, with similar texture to polenta or porridge.
It’s made from ground wheat and comes in many flavors. It can be eaten at home or on the go, and is a great breakfast for pregnant moms who need an extra iron boost.
Since it’s fortified with iron, it’s not as bioavailable as heme-iron from animal products, but is still a great source nonetheless.
One important note is that because it’s made with wheat, it’s not suitable for moms who are gluten intolerant or those with Celiac disease.
10. Instant Oatmeal
Iron Content: 5 milligrams per ½ cup (Source: Quaker)
Running out the door and need a quick breakfast? Instant oatmeal can be there for you in a minute.
It’s a delicious, hearty breakfast that provides not only iron, but also whole grains (which are a good source for fiber) and other nutrients.
There are a ton of different flavor options, so you can keep instant oatmeal packets at your home or office, and when you need a meal or snack, they can be quickly prepared.
It’s great for pregnant moms, too, because if you are feeling sluggish or nauseated, oatmeal can help fill your stomach without weighing you down.
Another bonus is that oatmeal is naturally gluten-free, so it’s a great choice if you need to avoid gluten.
11. Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)
Iron Content: 5 milligrams per one cup (Harvard)
This humble legume can be eaten on a salad, pureed into hummus, or roasted until crunchy and eaten as a snack.
Not only do they provide iron, but they are also a good source of protein, fiber, folate, and carbohydrates, which will give you plenty of energy to grow your baby (source: NutritionData).
One word of caution about hummus – it’s always better to make your own. For more on this, check out our guide on whether hummus is safe during pregnancy.
12. Canned Anchovies
Iron Content: 4.6 milligrams per 3.5 ounces/100 grams (Source: Nutritionix)
These tiny little fish pack an iron-rich punch.
They are generally safe to consume throughout pregnancy – if you’re really into anchovies then you should definitely read our full pregnancy guide to anchovies as well.
Not only are anchovies a great source of iron, but they are also a great way to incorporate Omega-3 fatty acids into your diet.
If you want to eat anchovies, but if the taste or smells turns you off, they can be mixed into sauces or spreads to help mask the fishiness.
They do give a wonderful depth and flavor when added to tomato-based stews, and can even make a Ceasar salad super special; just avoid a Ceasar dressing with raw egg yolks from unpasteurized eggs.
Yes, we have a Caesar salad and dressing guide for pregnant women, too!
13. Lamb Shoulder
Iron Content: 3 milligrams per 3.5 ounces/100 grams (Source: Diet & Fitness Today)
When we talk about lamb, we are referring to a sheep, aged anywhere from birth to one year of age.
It’s a nutritious, flavorful meat that can be cooked in a variety of ways, and is safe to consume during pregnancy, as long as it’s cooked through; raw or undercooked meat is not safe because of the risk for foodborne illness.
Iron, protein, B vitamins, zinc, selenium, and folate are just a few of the nutrients that you can get from consuming lamb (source: USDA).
Ground, spiced lamb meatballs or kabobs are an easy weeknight dinner, or roast a full shoulder for an impressive holiday main course.
Iron Content: 2.3 milligrams per 3.5 ounces/100 grams (Source: Diet & Fitness Today)
Turkey is common around the fall and holiday season, but that doesn’t mean that sliced turkey can’t be eaten all year as part of an iron-rich diet.
It’s important for pregnant women to heat luncheon meat (or deli meat) thoroughly before consuming, to prevent foodborne illness. If this is something you eat often, you might be interested in our deli meat safety guide.
A roasted turkey with liver gravy would be a great way to increase iron consumption and tastes downright delicious.
Turkey is a great source of protein and B vitamins, and is low in fat (when the skin is not consumed).
This complete guide to turkey during pregnancy will also help you out with different ways of eating turkey safely.
Iron Content: Up to 1 milligram per 1 large egg (Source: USDA)
Eggs may not have the most iron, but they are a great way to get extra nutrition during pregnancy.
Since Vitamin C helps the body to better absorb iron, a glass of orange with eggs in the morning is a simple way to start the day off on the right foot.
Not only do eggs have iron, but they are a great source of protein, fat, and 14 other nutrients that are important for you and for baby (source: NutritionData).
One thing to remember is that, during pregnancy, it’s important to consume eggs fully cooked, unless they are pasteurized.
No matter which way you prefer to eat them, it’ll be covered in our separate guide to eggs when you’re pregnant.
Pasteurized eggs have been treated to remove bacteria, and may be safe to consume undercooked during pregnancy, but they’re pretty hard to find.
If you ever have any questions, you can always ask your medical professional to confirm.
The Best Iron-Rich Foods for Vegetarian Pregnant Women
How do you find rich sources of iron if you follow a plant-based diet?
Not to worry, there are plenty of sources of plant-based iron that can be eaten during pregnancy.
Iron from plants is non-heme based, so it’s not absorbed quite as well as heme-iron (source: NCBI).
This is why it’s important to incorporate foods high in Vitamin C at the same time, because vitamin C helps the body to better absorb iron (Source: Vegetarian Resource Group).
Most of the time, when people think of vegetables high in iron, they think of spinach or other leafy greens.
Spinach does have about 5 milligrams of iron per cooked cup, so we’ve included it here, but there are so many other great foods that we sometimes overlook!
Let’s review a list of iron-rich plant-based foods that are great for pregnant vegetarian moms:
16. Dried Seaweed
Emi Tsunomata (Canada) Iron Content: 66.4 milligrams per 100 grams (Source: Diet & Fitness Today)
Now, this is crazy. A red seaweed that was selected 20 years ago, and is now sustainably cultivated and grown for its nutritional properties, Emi Tsunomata contains the highest amount of iron anywhere in this food list.
One hundred grams provides a whopping 66 milligrams of iron. It can be purchased online, though it’s often hard to find, and rehydrated with water (similar to dried mushrooms) before eating.
You can use this in salads, in smoothies, or by itself, and as long as it’s from a trusted source, is safe to consume during pregnancy.
It’s one of the more uncommon ingredients in this food list, but why not take advantage of what nature has to offer?
If you can’t find it, you could try other seaweeds – some have a good amount of bioavailable iron, similar to spinach (source: Science Direct).
You’ll need to check the type, though. We have a complete guide to seaweed safety during pregnancy for you, because some seaweeds are better than others when you’re expecting.
Iron Content: 28.5 milligrams per 100 grams (Source: Diet & Fitness Today)
Spirulina, a blue-green algae, also hits high on this list for iron content. Spirulina powder is commonly mixed into smoothies or even taken as tablets.
One bit of advice when taking supplements, though; the iron content and nutritional profile of supplements can vary, since there is no regulation on quality.
Spirulina is not only rich in iron, but also contains protein, amino acids, fatty acids, and much more (source: NutritionData)
Incorporating this into your diet during pregnancy ensures that you’ll meet your iron requirements.
18. Cacao (Cocoa) Powder
Iron Content: 13.3 milligrams per 100 grams (Source: Eat This Much)
Raw cacao powder (also known as cocoa powder) is a nutrient-dense powder that can be mixed into smoothies, baked into breads or cookies, or even made into a nutritious hot cacao.
Cacao powder is safe to consume during pregnancy, and also offers a kick of fiber with no added sugar.
However, be aware that it also contains caffeine, which you should limit during pregnancy. You can check which type has the most caffeine in our ultimate guide to caffeine in chocolate products.
19. Morel Mushrooms
Iron Content: 12.8 milligrams per 100 grams (Source: USDA)
Is it morel season yet? Morel mushrooms, with their telltale honeycomb cap and solid base, are one of the most prized wild fungi available.
They have a delicious, earthy flavor, and a meaty texture that can hold up in the heartiest of stews. Interestingly, morels are more akin to truffles than mushrooms.
If you saute them in cast iron (such as pictured above) you can increase their iron content further.
In addition to being a great iron source, morel mushrooms are rich in vitamins and minerals, making them a perfect nutritional powerhouse for your diet during pregnancy.
If you can’t find them fresh, you can purchase them dried and rehydrate with water. You should always cook morels, along with many other types of mushrooms.
If you’re a mushroom fan, we’ve broken down ALL the types of mushrooms that are safe when you’re pregnant.
20. Tofu (Koyadofu)
Iron Content: 9.7 milligrams per 100 grams (Source: NutritionData)
Koyadofu is a freeze-dried tofu that is a common staple in a Japanese kitchen.
Before eating it needs to be rehydrated (similar to mushrooms or seaweed), and is usually found in soup or stews.
It’s got the highest iron content of any tofu product, and is safe to consume during pregnancy unless you need to avoid soy products.
Koyadofu also has a lot of protein and fat, as well as calcium, so it’s a really good, nutrient-dense addition to your diet. Try it simmered in a soup-broth spiced with ginger and garlic.
21. Sun-dried Tomatoes
Iron Content: 9 milligrams per 100 grams (Source: Daily Iron)
Sun-dried tomatoes are a delicious way to increase your daily iron intake and can be eaten during pregnancy.
They can come packed in an oil or marinade, or just by themselves.
You’d have to eat a lot of them (each sun-dried tomato is only about 2 grams) if they were the only iron source that you were consuming, but adding them to an iron-rich diet is a great idea.
Additionally, the naturally occurring Vitamin C in the tomatoes helps to increase the iron that your body can absorb (source: ScienceDirect)
Try them in a salad, as a spread for sandwiches, or as part of a pasta toss for a delicious, nutritious boost.
Iron Content: 7.2 milligrams per 100 grams (Source: FoodData Central)
Lentils are a fantastic source of not only iron, but protein, fiber, and tons of other nutrients including folate, which is vital during pregnancy (source: NutritionData).
These tiny legumes are easy to cook and taste delicious on their own, in a salad or soup, or even formed into a patty.
Lentils are safe to consume during pregnancy and are naturally gluten-free.
23. Dried Beans
Iron Content: Average 9 milligrams per 100 grams (Source: Diet & Fitness Today)
Dried beans are a staple in most plant-based diets.
When consumed with rice, they make a complete protein (source: Cleveland Clinic).
They have about 9 milligrams of iron per 100 grams, which can vary slightly depending on the bean; common beans include black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, and black-eyed peas.
They are delicious in a soup, stewed as a side dish, pureed into a dip, or atop a salad.
They also contain fiber, complex carbs, and lots of other nutrients, which make them a perfect addition to the plant-based diet (Source: Nutritionix).
Beans are safe to consume during pregnancy, but just be mindful that they are thoroughly cooked.
Undercooked beans can cause unwelcome gastrointestinal issues (source: Ohio State University), and no one wants to deal with that, especially during pregnancy!
Iron Content: 3-5 mg average per 100g (source: NutritionData)
Spinach often appears on the ‘high iron foods’ lists and it’s no surprise why.
We’re including it here not just for those plant-based pregnant mothers, but if you want to use it in a more versatile way to any kind of prenatal diet.
You can add it to curries, soups and stews, mash it into potatoes, blitz it into a smoothie or eat it raw in a salad with apples, nuts and dressing.
If you are going to eat spinach raw, just make sure you wash it thoroughly first – we have a guide to prepping produce during pregnancy here.
25. Dried Apricots
Iron Content: 2.6 milligrams per 100 grams (Diet & Fitness Today)
Snacks are life, right? So, what’s a good, smart snack that is nutritious and can get you through your pregnancy? Dried fruit is a great answer!
Dried apricots have almost 3 grams of iron per 100 grams, and also contain a healthy source of carbohydrates and fiber.
Be mindful of portion sizes if you need to limit your sugar intake due to regular or gestational diabetes; even though fructose is a natural sugar, it can still raise your blood sugar, albeit at a lower rate (source: PMC).
Toss some dried apricots with almonds or walnuts for a delicious, nutrient-dense snack, or mix some into yogurt.
Pregnancy nutrition might feel overwhelming, wondering if you are getting enough essentials like iron.
It’s important to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains.
It’s also important to eat a diet high in iron to help prevent anemia. If you weren’t sure what to consume to get enough iron, this list is a great place to start!
This article has been reviewed and approved for publication in line with our editorial policy.