“Iron is a key mineral that interacts with proteins, enzymes, and many other compounds in the body,” says dietitian Dahlia Marin, R.D., founder of Married to Health. “It is also involved in the transportation and storage of oxygen through red blood cells, physical growth, and neurological development.” Without ample iron, we don’t have enough red blood cells to transport oxygen, which can cause fatigue and the condition known as iron deficiency anemia.
Loading up on iron (at least 18 milligrams a day for non-pregnant adult women and eight for men) doesn’t seem so appealing when you think of Grandma’s go-to of dried prunes, though.
Luckily, you have more options than you think. These six delicious iron-rich foods can help you up your intake.
Next time you go for seafood, order the shellfish. (That category includes shrimp, crayfish, crab, lobster, clams, scallops, oysters, and mussels, FYI.)
These popular varieties of seafood are packed with iron, protein, and vitamin B12, says Ashley Shaw, R.D., M.S., a registered dietitian at Natus Wellness. Typically, one three-ounce serving offers between two and three milligrams of iron, which can put a notable dent in your daily requirement.
Read More: 6 Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Iron
Plus, “the type of iron in shellfish is heme iron, which is better absorbed by the body than non-heme iron, which is found in plant-based foods,” she adds.
For an easy meal, throw some shrimp kabobs on the grill or mix any shellfish into salads, pasta, and stir-fries for a tasty twist.
2. White Beans
This popular type of bean makes for a great addition to plant-based meals because it is high in protein, folate, and fiber, Marin says. Not to mention, a one-cup serving of white beans packs eight milligrams of iron, making it one of the most iron-rich foods you can eat.
Marin likes to boil white beans to add to soups, salads, casseroles, and stews. They also pair really well with whole grains, such as wild rice and quinoa.
3. Red Meat
Craving that burger? Red meat (such as lamb, beef, and pork) is rich in nutrients and deserving of its place amongst iron-rich foods. Not only is it a good source of protein but of vitamin B12, iron, and zinc, too, Shaw says. One three-ounce serving of red meat contains about three milligrams of that easy-to-absorb heme iron.
Ideally, you’d get that iron from high-quality red meat. “Grass-fed, organically-raised red meat uses fewer (or no) antibiotics and growth hormones,” Shaw says. “It is also higher in certain nutrients, such as vitamin A, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids (which are good for heart health) than conventional beef.”
Shaw recommends sautéing, baking, roasting, grilling, or broiling your go-to cut and adding it to chili, tacos, and burritos.
One of the most popular plant proteins out there, lentils are super-filling and versatile. In addition to being high in folate and protein, they are a solid source of iron, offering three milligrams per half-cup serving, Marin says.
Read More: The Right Way To Supplement With Iron
There are also so many delicious ways to cook with lentils. Marin enjoys boiling them in soups, mixing them with salad greens, or adding them to pasta dishes. (They also make for a killer meat substitute in tacos and burritos.)
Throw some spinach in your salad (or smoothie!) and you’re guaranteed to have a more satisfying and nutritious meal. These greens are packed with calcium, vitamin C, and folate—and one half-cup serving of raw spinach contains three milligrams of iron, explains Marin.
Marin recommends making spinach a go-to salad green, adding it to crunchy wraps and sandwiches, and sautéing it with your other favorite vegetables.
A popular staple in all sorts of Asian cuisines and amongst vegans and vegetarians, tofu is made of dried soybeans. Because it is high in protein, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids, this anytime food is a great plant-based alternative to meat, Marin says. One half-cup serving of tofu packs three milligrams of non-heme iron.
Try grilling tofu to pile onto sandwiches, adding it to stir-fries, or using it in place of animal protein in salads and other recipes, she suggests.