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All about iron
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Information about iron

Why do I need iron?

Iron is needed to make hemoglobin, which is a protein inside the red blood cell that carries oxygen to all parts of your body.

What happens if I don’t have enough iron?

Without enough iron you may:

  • feel tired
  • feel weak
  • have pale skin
  • experience shortness of breath or chest pain
  • feel dizzy
  • experience headaches
  • have restless legs, especially at night
  • have disturbed sleep
  • have an upset stomach

Iron & Diet

How do I get iron from my diet?

There are two main sources of iron:

  • Heme iron comes from animal sources (e.g. beef)
  • Non-heme iron comes from plant sources (e.g. spinach)

How much iron should I get from food each day?

Women under 50 18 mg/day
Women over 50 8 mg/day
Pregnant women 27 mg/day
Men 8 mg/day

Learn more about foods with higher iron content »

Foods with higher iron content


IRON (mg)

Animal source

75 g (2.5 ounces)

Ground meat (chicken, pork, turkey) 75 g (2.5 ounces) 1.5
Chicken 75 g (2.5 ounces) 2
Pork 75 g (2.5 ounces) 1.1
Pork liver 75 g (2.5 ounces) 13
Beef liver 75 g (2.5 ounces) 5
Clams 75 g (2.5 ounces) 21


2 large 1.2-1.8

Plant source

Pumpkin or squash seeds

60 mL (1/4 cup)


175 mL (3/4 cup)


175 mL (3/4 cup)


Beans (white, kidney, navy, black, pinto)

175 mL (3/4 cup)


Baked beans

175 mL (3/4 cup)


Nuts (cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachio, macadamia)

60 mL (1/4 cup)



60 mL (1/4 cup)


Blackstrap molasses

15 mL (1 Tbsp)

Cream of wheat

175 mL (3/4 cup)

Oatmeal (instant)

175 mL (3/4 cup)

Cereal, dry

30 g

check product label

Granola bar – oat, fruits and nut

1 bar


Spinach, cooked

125 mL (1/2 cup)


Potato with skin

1 large


Apricots, dried

60 mL (1/4 cup)


Kale, cooked

125 ml (1/2 cup)


Tomato sauce

125 ml (1/2 cup)


Why might I need iron supplements?

  • Your body’s iron stores are low because of blood loss from things like menstruation, or if you have bleeding ulcers in the stomach or intestine, or after surgery
  • You do not eat eggs, meat, fish or poultry
  • You are living with certain chronic diseases such as cancer
  • You are pregnant or are breastfeeding
  • You are going for surgery in the next 4 – 6 weeks and need to boost your iron and hemoglobin levels. This may help avoid a blood transfusion.

People with a rare medical condition called hemochromatosis should NOT take iron supplements.

Ask your doctor if you would benefit from iron supplements, especially if surgery is being planned, or you are pregnant.

Which iron supplements are best for me? »

Oral Iron Supplements

Iron supplements

Side effectsBenefitsDisadvantages

Plant Source
Ferrous Gluconate
Ferrous Sulphate
Ferrous Fumarate (Palafer®)

* recommended dosage for Palafer is 300 mg once a day
(100 mg of elemental iron)
(all listed above are iron salts)

May cause stomach side effects such as pain, nausea, bloating, constipation and black stools


Covered by most drug plans

Poor absorption if taken with antacids, calcium, dairy products, tea, coffee or food

Plant source
Polysaccharide Iron (Feramax®)
*recommended dosage is 150 mg once a day
(150mg of elemental iron)

As above

May be better tolerated with fewer side effects

Not covered by most drug plans and is more expensive

Animal Source
* recommended dosage is 11 mg
(elemental iron) twice a day

As above

May be better tolerated with fewer side effects

Not covered by most drug plans and is more expensive

For the best iron absorption take iron pills on an empty stomach at the same time as Vitamin C (500 mg). Iron salts may interfere with prescription medication you are taking – check with your pharmacist or doctor.

Intravenous Iron

Intravenous (IV) iron may be used if:

  • You have severe iron deficiency causing a low hemoglobin level
  • You are unable to take oral supplements due to severe side effects
  • There is not enough time to use oral supplements to bring up your iron level, such as before surgery
  • Your intestine is unable to absorb oral iron due to surgery or condition

Side effects are rare, but may include joint pain or swelling, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even more rarely, a drop in blood pressure. These side effects resolve fairly quickly after the infusion.

The iron infusion is given in hospital and takes about two hours for each infusion. Often more than one infusion is needed. If this option is best for you, your physician will let you know.