Foods that contain a good source of iron include red meat, poultry, pork and dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach. Other reliable sources include peas, raisins and dried apricots.
More iron is absorbed from meat than from other sources. Vegetarians may need to increase their intake of iron-rich, plant-based foods to absorb the same amount of iron as someone who consumes meat. Drinking citrus juice or eating other foods rich in vitamin C at the same time that high-iron foods are consumed enhances the body's absorption of iron.
Consuming too little iron, over time can cause an iron deficiency. Without enough iron, the body cannot produce enough hemoglobin in red blood cells that enables the cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. As a result, iron deficiency anemia may leave many people feeling tired, irritable and short of breath. Initially, iron deficiency anemia can be so mild that it goes unnoticed, but as the body becomes more iron deficient, the signs and symptoms intensify. About 20 percent of women, 50 percent of pregnant women and 3 percent of men do not have enough iron in their body.
Iron is absorbed mainly through the upper part of the small intestine. There are two forms of dietary iron: heme and nonheme. Heme iron is derived from hemoglobin. It is found in animal foods that originally contained hemoglobin, such as red meats, fish and poultry. Most iron is absorbed from heme sources. Nonheme iron is derived from plant sources.