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What drinks have lots of iron?

Iron is an essential mineral that plays many important roles in the body. Iron is needed to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to tissues throughout the body. Iron is also a key part of many proteins and enzymes in the body that are involved in energy production, immune function, growth, and development. Adults need iron to make new red blood cells to replace old and damaged ones. Children and teens need iron for growth and development.

Why is iron important?

Iron has several vital functions, including:

  • Formation of hemoglobin and myoglobin, which are proteins that carry and store oxygen in the body.
  • Enzyme functions – Iron is part of many enzymes in the body that are involved in energy production, collagen formation, and immune system function.
  • Brain development and function – Iron is essential for normal brain development in infants and children. Iron also supports neurotransmitter production and cognitive skills.
  • Immune system – Iron plays a role in the production and activation of T-lymphocytes, which are important immune cells that help fight infection.
  • Muscle function – As part of myoglobin, iron helps muscles store oxygen and use it during contraction.
  • Gene regulation – Iron is a key part of proteins that regulate genes involved in cell growth and division.

Even mild iron deficiency can impair these functions and lead to problems like fatigue, decreased immunity, and poorer academic performance in children. More severe iron deficiency causes anemia, a condition where the blood cannot carry enough oxygen to meet the body’s needs.

How much iron do you need?

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for iron is:

  • Infants 0-6 months: 0.27 mg/day
  • Infants 7-12 months: 11 mg/day
  • Children 1-3 years: 7 mg/day
  • Children 4-8 years: 10 mg/day
  • Children 9-13 years: 8 mg/day
  • Males 14-18 years: 11 mg/day
  • Females 14-18 years: 15 mg/day
  • Adult males: 8 mg/day
  • Adult females: 18 mg/day
  • Pregnant females 27 mg/day
  • Breastfeeding females: 9-10 mg/day

The RDA is the average daily intake level that meets the nutrient requirements for nearly all healthy individuals in a specific age and gender group. Consuming less than the RDA increases the risk of iron deficiency.

What foods provide iron?

There are two main forms of dietary iron:

  • Heme iron – Found only in animal foods that contain hemoglobin, such as meat, poultry, and fish. More readily absorbed by the body.
  • Non-heme iron – Found in plant foods and iron-fortified foods. Not as well absorbed as heme iron.

Good sources of heme iron include:

  • Red meats like beef, lamb, and liver
  • Poultry such as chicken and turkey
  • Seafood including clams, oysters, sardines, tuna, and salmon
  • Pork and ham

Good sources of non-heme iron include:

  • Beans, lentils, and peas
  • Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
  • Dried fruits such as prunes, raisins, and apricots
  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereals and breads
  • Nuts and seeds

What drinks have lots of iron?

There are several beverages that can provide significant amounts of iron:

1. Fortified fruit juices

Many fruit juices like orange, grape, prune, and cranberry juice have iron added as a fortificant. For example, 8 ounces of fortified orange juice typically provides around 3 mg of iron, which is 15-20% of the daily iron needs for teenage girls and adult women.

2. Fortified cow’s milk

Cow’s milk is not naturally a good source of iron. However, most of the cow’s milk sold commercially has iron added to it during processing. An 8-ounce glass of fortified cow’s milk provides about 1 mg of iron.

3. Soy milk

Some brands of soy milk are fortified with iron at similar levels to cow’s milk, providing about 1-3 mg per 8-ounce serving. Soybeans themselves contain non-heme iron, so opt for soy milk made from whole soybeans rather than soy protein isolate.

4. Blackstrap molasses

Blackstrap molasses is a thick, dark syrup that remains after sugar is boiled from sugarcane. It contains significant amounts of many vitamins and minerals, including 3.5 mg of iron per 1 tablespoon. The iron in blackstrap molasses is non-heme, so it may not be as well absorbed.

5. Dried herbs and spices

Many dried herbs and spices contain non-heme iron, including turmeric, thyme, cumin, cloves, oregano, cayenne pepper, parsley, basil, and chili powder. Using these generously when cooking can increase the iron content of meals.

6. Fortified breakfast cereals

Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, instant oatmeal, and other breakfast products are commonly fortified with iron. Be sure to check the label, as iron content can range from about 1.5 mg (6% DV) to 18 mg (100% DV) per serving.

7. Tomato juice

Tomato juice is naturally a very good source of iron. One cup provides over 2 mg of the mineral, or 10-15% of the RDA for many adults. The iron in tomato juice is enhanced by vitamin C, which boosts absorption.

8. Black coffee

Black coffee contains small amounts of non-heme iron. Drinking 3 to 4 cups of black coffee daily can provide up to 6% of the recommended daily iron intake for adult women and men.

9. Fortified meal replacement shakes

Meal replacement shakes and protein powders meant for weight loss or gain are usually fortified with iron and other nutrients. Amounts vary by brand but expect to get about 3-5 mg from a standard serving.

10. Dried fruits

Prunes, raisins, dried apricots and peaches are high in iron. Steeping some dried fruit in hot water makes an iron-rich “tea”, providing 1-2 mg per serving.

Iron content of selected beverages

Beverage Serving Size Iron (mg)
Fortified orange juice 1 cup 3
Fortified cow’s milk 1 cup 1
Soy milk 1 cup 2
Blackstrap molasses 1 tablespoon 3.5
Tomato juice 1 cup 2.3
Prune juice 1 cup 3
Fortified breakfast cereal 1 serving 5-18
Black coffee 1 cup 0.6
Meal replacement shake 1 serving 3-5
Dried apricots 1/2 cup 2

Tips to get more iron from beverages

Here are some tips to increase your iron intake from drinks:

  • Choose fortified fruit juices and milk over unfortified varieties.
  • Drink soy milk instead of cow’s milk if you follow a vegan diet.
  • Add blackstrap molasses to smoothies or oatmeal.
  • Use iron-rich dried herbs like turmeric generously when cooking.
  • Choose an iron-fortified breakfast cereal or oatmeal.
  • Mix prune juice with plain soy or cow’s milk.
  • Choose tomato juice over other vegetable juices.
  • Include a serving of dried fruit in trail mixes or cereals.
  • Enjoy black coffee regularly.

Factors affecting iron absorption

Only some of the iron you consume actually gets absorbed. Here are some factors that affect iron absorption:

  • Type of iron – Heme iron is absorbed 2-3 times better than non-heme iron.
  • Iron status – People who are iron deficient absorb more iron than those with normal levels.
  • Other components in foods and drinks – Vitamin C enhances iron absorption, while polyphenols, phytates, calcium, and coffee can inhibit it.
  • Health conditions – Diseases of the digestive system like celiac disease and gastritis can impair iron absorption.
  • Medications – Antacids and proton pump inhibitors reduce stomach acid needed for iron absorption.

To maximize absorption, pair iron-rich foods with vitamin C sources like citrus fruits or tomatoes. Avoid taking iron supplements with calcium-rich foods and coffee.

Too much iron

Consuming extremely high amounts of iron through supplements can cause adverse effects like:

  • Gastrointestinal problems – Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain
  • Organ damage – Especially to the liver
  • Increased infection risk – Since some bacteria thrive on excess iron
  • Insulin resistance – Can increase diabetes risk

That’s why it’s important to stick to recommended daily intake levels for iron and avoid exceeding the upper limit (UL) unless advised by your doctor:

  • Infants 0-12 months: 40 mg UL
  • Children 1-13 years: 40 mg UL
  • Teens 14-18 years: 45 mg UL
  • Adults 19 years and over: 45 mg UL

Getting iron from food and beverage sources is safe, since they are unlikely to provide excessive amounts all at once. But check with your doctor before taking high-dose iron supplements.

Who is at risk of iron deficiency?

Some people are at higher risk of developing iron deficiency or iron deficiency anemia, including:

  • Pregnant women – Iron needs increase to support fetal growth.
  • Young children – Rapid growth depletes iron stores.
  • Adolescent girls – Menstruation increases iron needs.
  • Vegans and vegetarians – May not eat enough iron-rich foods.
  • Endurance athletes – Iron is lost through sweat.
  • People with gastrointestinal disorders or surgery that reduces iron absorption.
  • People who regularly donate blood or experience heavy bleeding.

Those at risk should aim to consume adequate iron through a varied, iron-rich diet. Speak to a doctor about whether iron supplements may be beneficial.


Iron is a crucial mineral that is essential for health and wellbeing. While red meats and dark leafy greens are well-known sources, many beverages can also provide significant amounts of dietary iron.

Fruit juices, soy milk, breakfast cereals, molasses, tomato juice, coffee, and dried fruits are just some examples of iron-rich drinks. Choosing fortified varieties can help meet daily needs for this important mineral.

Drinking a variety of these iron-rich beverages can be especially useful for those at risk of deficiency, such as pregnant women, young children, teens, athletes, and vegetarians. Just be sure not to overdo it with supplements, as excessively high iron intake can cause adverse effects.