Getting sufficient iron in your diet when you’re pregnant helps prevent iron-deficiency anemia. Pregnant women use up all the nutrients from the foods that they eat very efficiently to provide nutrition to their babies, and iron is no exception. Iron helps carry oxygen throughout your body and to your baby. If you are taking a prenatal vitamin, it probably contains at least 27 mg of iron, which is the daily amount recommended by the National Institutes of Health for pregnant women.
It’s also important to eat foods high in iron, since the mineral is more easily absorbed from food. Eat your iron-rich foods with a food source of vitamin C, such as citrus juices, broccoli, bell peppers and cabbage. Several studies, including “The Role of Vitamin C in Iron Absorption” by Hallberg et al. in the “Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research,” have shown that ascorbic acid (vitamin C) helps you absorb iron. And when you eat foods high in iron, avoid eating coffee, tea, dairy or soy products at the same time, as these foods are high in minerals and other substances that block the absorption of iron. Also talk to your doctor about the upper and lower limits of iron intake from food and supplement sources that are best for you.
Red meat, poultry and fish are recommended food sources of iron for pregnant women. Your body absorbs heme, the form of iron found in meat, more readily than it absorbs iron from vegetable sources. Beef, buffalo, veal, lamb, pork, chicken and turkey are high in iron, as is egg yolk. 3 oz. of beef tenderloin has 3 mg of iron, in this highly bioavailable form.
Legumes—Beans and Peas
Lentils, soybeans and tofu, kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans and most other beans are good vegetable sources of iron. Just 1 cup of boiled lentils has 6.6 mg of iron.
Fish and Seafood
Although oysters, clams, tuna, halibut, crab and shrimp all are foods high in iron, you should limit your intake of tuna during pregnancy, due to its mercury content. Check with your doctor about the others. The quality of the fish and seafood varies widely depending on your location. Always eat seafood and fish properly cooked during pregnancy.
Use molasses to sweeten pancakes, biscuits and other foods instead of honey or maple syrup, and you’re giving yourself an extra dose of iron. Molasses has 3.5 mg of iron per tablespoon.
Vegetables and Fruits
Iron is present in spinach, tomatoes, berries, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, collard greens, turnip greens, apricots and many other fruits and vegetables. A half cup of boiled spinach, the most iron-dense of the common vegetables, has 3.2 mg of iron. Keep in mind however that spinach has other components, including calcium, which block iron absorption, and that fruits and vegetables have a less bioavailable form of iron.