Chicken is one of the most popular foods in the U.S., and for good reason. It's versatile and fits into so many cuisines. Even better news — the iron in chicken and other animal sources is more readily absorbed than the kind found in plants.
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Chicken is a source of iron, containing 1.07 milligrams per 100 grams, which is 5 percent of your daily value, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
The Importance of Iron
According to Harvard Health Publishing, upward of 25 percent of the world's population has low levels of iron. Although iron deficiency in America is more rare, it is a problem, particularly among women, and can lead to iron deficiency anemia, a more severe condition. Unfortunately, according to a September 2014 issue of Nutrients, iron deficiency is often ignored by medical professionals.
Iron deficiency can be caused by a large number of attributing factors, according to a February 2014 issue of the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences. These factors might include:
- Low iron intake and bioavailability
- Infectious and inflammatory diseases
- Blood loss from infection
- Other nutrient deficiencies
A lack of iron can result in physical and cognitive impairments and developmental delays. Iron is also vital for the immune system to function correctly and prevent illness. Without enough iron, you may feel tired, weak, dizzy or short of breath and experience a loss of stamina, according to Harvard Health.
Types of Iron
There are two types of iron: the kind that comes from animal sources, like the iron in chicken, called heme iron, and the kind that comes from plants, called non-heme iron. Heme iron is more easily absorbed for use by your body, says the American Red Cross. So, the iron in beef is better absorbed than the iron in spinach, and the iron in eggs is better absorbed than the iron in beans.
If you are a vegan, it is vital to be aware of your iron sources. A December 2016 review in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine concludes that low iron levels and iron-deficiency anemia are higher in male and female vegetarians, especially premenopausal vegetarian women. Furthermore, a July 2014 article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition advises that supplementation may be necessary for vegan and vegetarian children.
The iron in chicken is of the more bioavailable type. A half breast of chicken contains 6 percent of your daily value for iron, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, and is among the top 10 foods highest in iron. A 6-ounce piece of lean cooked chicken breast contains 5 percent of your daily value, according to the USDA.
Iron-Rich Foods List
The following iron-rich foods list will help you add sources to your diet that can prevent iron deficiency and its symptoms. Included are iron-rich fruits, vegetables and other plant-based sources, as well as more bioavailable animal sources. Remember that it is not just the amount of iron that's in a particular food but also the rate at which you can absorb it that counts.
Fruits and vegetables high in iron, according to the USDA:
- Dried herbs
- Dried apricots
- Peas in the pod
- White mushrooms
- Acorn squash
- Dried coconut
- Green beans
Familiar animal sources high in iron, according to the USDA:
- Roast beef
- Canned tuna
- Dark turkey meat
- Chicken breast
- Pork chops
- Chicken drumsticks
Other foods rich in iron include those that have been fortified, such as cereals, as well as cocoa powder, seaweed, caviar and wheat germ.
Read more: How to Bake a Plain Chicken Breast
- Harvard Health Publishing: "A Healthy Diet Is the Key to Getting the Iron You Need"
- Journal of Research in Medical Sciences: "Review on Iron and Its Importance for Human Health"
- American Red Cross: "Iron Rich Foods"
- American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine: "Iron Status of Vegetarian Adults: A Review of Literature"
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Is Iron and Zinc Nutrition a Concern for Vegetarian Infants and Young Children in Industrialized Countries?"
- USDA: "Lean Chicken Breast (Cooked)"
- USDA: "Top 10 Foods Highest in Iron"
- Nutrients: "Dietary Determinants of and Possible Solutions to Iron Deficiency for Young Women Living in Industrialized Countries: A Review"