Fueling life: 10 rich-in-iron foods for pregnant women

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Pregnancy is an exciting journey filled with anticipation and joy, but it also comes with its unique set of challenges. One such challenge is ensuring that you and your little one get all the essential nutrients, especially iron. Here is a tasty tour of rich-in-iron foods for pregnant women to include in their diet when expecting.

A pregnant woman is cooking rich-in-iron food in a pan on the stove.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Disclaimer: This article should not be viewed as medical advice and is for informational purposes only. You should consult your physician before making any changes to your diet. Check the nutrition facts label on the packaging for iron content. 

Importance of iron during pregnancy

Before diving into the lineup of the rich-in-iron foods for pregnant women, take a moment to understand why iron is important for an energetic and nourished pregnancy. Iron is a key component of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen from your lungs to your body’s cells and to your baby.

As your blood volume expands during pregnancy, so does the need for iron to ensure proper oxygen supply. Thus iron plays a crucial role, supporting the increased blood volume and contributing to the development of the placenta.

Risks of iron deficiency during pregnancy

Iron deficiency during pregnancy can lead to complications for both the mother and the baby. Fatigue, weakness and difficulty concentrating are common symptoms for the mother, while the baby may be at risk of low weight and premature birth. Severe iron deficiency can even result in anemia, a condition that can have long-lasting effects on the child’s cognitive and behavioral development.

Rich-in-iron foods for pregnant women

The good news is that anemia during pregnancy can be easily prevented or treated by getting enough iron. Your best bet is to increase the intake of iron-rich foods right from the start of the pregnancy to avoid having to take supplements. Here are the top picks for foods high in iron that can help you meet your iron needs when expecting.

1. Lean red meat

If you love meat, lean red meat is your go-to source of iron. Lean cuts of red meat, such as beef and lamb, are excellent sources of heme iron, the type of iron found in animal products that is more easily absorbed by the body. Just make sure it’s cooked well, as you want to avoid undercooked meat during pregnancy.

Raw beef on a cutting board with spices and a knife.
Photo credit: YayImages.

2. Poultry

Chicken and turkey are not only versatile and easy to prepare but also rich-in-iron. Dark meat, such as chicken thighs or turkey legs, contains more iron than white meat, making it a great choice for expecting mothers.

3. Eggs

Eggs are a fantastic addition to your arsenal of rich-in-iron foods for pregnant women. Whether scrambled, boiled or whipped into an omelet, eggs are a go-to option to keep your iron levels on the rise during pregnancy.

‘‘Increasing the amount of animal foods like chicken, beef and eggs was the ticket to overcoming anemia during my first trimester. I didn’t realize how serious this issue was until I went through it firsthand. From what I learned, whole food sources of iron are better than supplements because they come with all the naturally occurring cofactors needed for our bodies to properly assimilate and use iron.”

— Jessica Haggard, Primal Edge Health

4. Fish

Fish, particularly fatty fish like salmon and tuna, not only provide iron but also deliver omega-3 fatty acids crucial for the development of your baby’s brain. However, it’s important to choose fish low in mercury to avoid potential harm to your developing baby.

5. Organ meats

Now, a nutrient and iron-rich powerhouse that is often overlooked — organ meats. The liver, heart and kidneys are loaded with a concentrated source of heme iron. While it might sound a bit adventurous, incorporating small portions of organ meats into your diet can be a flavorsome and iron-packed way to fuel both you and your baby during pregnancy.

6. Legumes

If you are having a meat aversion or are on a vegetarian diet, excellent sources of plant-based iron are beans, lentils and chickpeas. They also offer great amounts of fiber, helping to alleviate common pregnancy discomforts such as constipation.

7. Dark leafy greens

Spinach, kale and Swiss chard are not only packed with iron but also rich in vitamins and antioxidants. These leafy greens are pregnancy superfoods and can be easily incorporated into salads, smoothies or cooked dishes, adding a burst of flavor and nutrition to your meals.

‘‘As the iron requirements increase during pregnancy, consuming iron-rich foods such as beef, eggs, spinach and organic soy can be very beneficial for meeting the increased demand. A little less known food that is a good source of iron is potatoes with the skin on.”

— Trina Krug MS, CDSP, Trina Krug

8. Dry fruits

Craving a sweet snack? Dry fruits can both satisfy your sweet tooth and your nutritional needs during pregnancy. Dried apricots, raisins and prunes are loaded with non-heme iron. Toss them into your cereal or yogurt, or enjoy a handful as a snack. Do watch the amounts you consume, though, as dried fruits are also high in sugar.

A person holding a plate of dried fruits.
Photo credit: YayImages.

9. Tofu

For vegetarian and vegan moms-to-be, tofu is a stellar addition to your iron-rich menu. This soy-based protein packs a punch of non-heme iron and can be enjoyed grilled, stir-fried or blended into a creamy smoothie.

10. Dark chocolate

Yes, you read it right — chocolate. Dark chocolate, in moderation, can be a surprisingly good source of iron. Opt for high-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70 percent for maximum benefits.

Cooking tips and tricks

Ensuring that you retain the maximum amount of iron from your food is essential. Here are some tips to get the most out of your iron-rich meals.

  • Pair iron-rich foods with vitamin C: Iron is better absorbed when paired with Vitamin C-rich foods. Opt for combinations like lean beef with bell peppers, spinach salads with citrus dressing or iron-fortified cereals with berries.
  • Cook with cast iron: Using cast-iron cookware can infuse your meals with additional iron, especially when preparing acidic dishes like tomato-based sauces.
  • Avoid consuming iron blockers: Certain foods and drinks can hinder iron absorption. Avoid consuming dairy products, coffee and tea close to iron-rich meals, as they contain compounds that can inhibit iron absorption.

“Pair iron-rich foods with those that contain vitamin C, like citrus fruits, bell peppers, tomatoes, strawberries and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower to increase absorption. For example, squeeze some lemon on your salad or on your fish or meat.” 

—  Anne Mauney, MPH, RD, fANNEtastic Food

One last thing

Ensuring you consume a variety of rich-in-iron foods for pregnant women is a delicious and nutritious way to support both your health and the development of your baby. Remember, a well-nourished body is a happy and healthy one, paving the way for a smooth and vibrant pregnancy.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The contents of this article, made available via Food Drink Life, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. The content presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or dietary changes. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk.

Tamara is a blogger at Thriving In Parenting, where she shares simple tips for busy parents — easy and healthy recipes, home decor ideas, self-care for moms and all things parenting.

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