Iron is arguably one of the most essential minerals in your body. But what makes it so necessary to maintaining your physical and mental health? And how can you combat an iron deficiency in a productive way? Here are five iron-rich foods that can help you raise your iron levels and increase your wellbeing.

Why Is Iron So Important?

Iron, perhaps, has one of the most important jobs of any mineral: to transport oxygen from the lungs throughout your entire body. This includes getting essential oxygen to the brain, the heart, and other major organs. While the job technically belongs to the red blood cells, these cells need iron to function. Iron is essential for the production of hemoglobin, which is what carries the oxygen in red blood cells. Without enough iron, your body will struggle to produce healthy, hemoglobin-rich cells. And without these, your body will lack oxygen, leading to tiresome symptoms.

When you don’t have enough iron, it’s referred to as anemia. There are many types of anemia; the most common is iron-deficiency anemia. Common symptoms of all types include fatigue, lightheadedness, irregular heartbeat, exhaustion, tiredness, dizziness, and lack of focus. Since iron also contributes to the health of your skin, hair, and nails, a deficiency may affect these, as well. You may develop brittle nails, thin and stringy hair, and dry skin.

Ultimately, anemia is extremely common, especially in females. In fact, close to 10% of women have a deficiency in iron. Sometimes, combating severe iron deficiency can require supplements or medical intervention. However, there’s another powerful way to improve your iron levels…and that’s by consuming it! Eating foods rich in iron can help you ensure healthy red blood cells and iron levels over time. So, which foods should you be eating?

Leafy Greens: Spinach

We’ve all gotten the speech about the importance of eating our vegetables. But did you know they could help you avoid iron deficiency? Spinach is extremely high in iron. A mere 100 grams contains close to 20% of the recommended daily intake of iron. Not only this: it also promotes bone strength, a healthy immune system, and includes cancer-fighting carotenoids.

The only downside to spinach is that it has non-heme iron, which the body has more trouble absorbing than heme iron. However, foods rich with vitamin C are helpful in absorption. Luckily, spinach happens to also have a hearty amount of vitamin C along with iron. Additionally, consuming some orange juice or tomato on the side can help you utilize the iron in this low-cal food to the fullest.

Hearty, Healthy Meats: Beef And Turkey

Besides its numerous other vitamins and minerals, meat is a great source of iron. Red meats such as beef, pork, and mutton are rich with heme iron. This is helpful, as the body can easily absorb and process heme iron in comparison to non-heme iron. As a result, including red meat in your diet can make a drastic difference in your iron levels. Sometimes, even more so than supplements! If red meat isn’t your taste, turkey is also a positive source of iron. Darker cuts of this healthy meat include plenty of iron, as well as high protein and vitamin B levels.

Legumes: Chickpeas, Beans, And Lentils

If you’re a vegetarian, fret not: legumes are here to save the day! These non-meat sources of iron include everything from soybeans to pumpkin seeds to peas. Legumes such as the uber-popular chickpeas have over 1/4 of your iron RDI in a single cup. Staggeringly, a cup of lentils provides 37% of your iron RDI. It’s hard to go wrong with legumes when it comes to upping your iron intake, especially when pairing it with a vitamin C rich food. Additionally, legumes are powerful tools when it comes to weight loss, immune health, and curbing heart disease.

Shellfish: Clams, Mussels, And Oysters

Seafood is treasured across the globe. And while it tastes great, that isn’t its only benefit. Shellfish are also a phenomenal source of iron. Of all types of shellfish, clams are most notable for combatting iron deficiency, along with mussels and oysters. In fact, some batches of clams can contain upwards of 150% of your recommended iron for the day. Another thing that makes the iron in shellfish so great? It’s all heme iron, meaning that your body can generally absorb it with a fair amount of ease. This, including its other heart-healthy benefits, makes shellfish an optimal source of iron and other vitamins or minerals.

Sweet Cravings: Dark Chocolate

Saving room for dessert? You might consider picking up a taste for dark chocolate. Dark chocolate already has a fairly healthy reputation. Thanks to its high antioxidant levels, it’s been shown to help with focus, memory, heart and brain health, and more. It can also protect against certain cancers. In addition, a regular serving of dark chocolate (approximately 3 o.z.) includes nearly 1/5th of your daily iron recommendation.

However, being aware of what type of dark chocolate treat you choose to consume is essential. The dark chocolate that is most beneficial in combatting iron deficiency will have at least 45% cacao solids in it, if not more. Still, the fact that this cacao-rich chocolate it so full of iron is a pretty fantastic reason to indulge in dessert more often. It’s the perfect way to satisfy your sweet tooth while also ensuring healthy red blood cells. Win-win!