Iron Rich Foods During Cancer Treatment

Author: Doris Piccinin, MS, RD, CDE, LDN & Carly Roop, RD, CSO, MA, LDN
Last Reviewed:

Why is iron important?

Patients going through cancer treatment often have low red blood cell counts. A low red blood cell count is also called anemia. One cause of anemia is an iron deficiency or low levels of iron in the blood. Symptoms of anemia can include weakness, fatigue, pale skin, cold intolerance, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Most adult men require 8 milligrams of iron per day, while most adult women require 12 milligrams per day. Choosing foods high in iron to support red blood cell production may help in restoring your blood counts to normal levels.

For patients with leukemia, iron-rich foods may not increase red blood cell counts. Check with your provider about how to maintain levels during treatment. Taking an iron supplement may increase the risk of infection or cardiovascular events, so always talk to your provider before starting an iron supplement. It is recommended to take iron and calcium supplements by at least 2 hours apart and it is best to take any multivitamin that contains iron with a meal.

Selected Food Sources of Iron

Food

Milligrams per Serving

Percent DV*

Breakfast Cereals, fortified with 100% of the DV for iron, 1 serving

18

100

Oysters, eastern, cooked with moist heat, 3 ounces

8

44

White beans, canned, 1 cup

8

44

Chocolate, dark, 45%–69% cacao solids, 3 ounces

7

39

Beef liver, pan fried, 3 ounces

5

28

Lentils, boiled and drained, ½ cup

3

17

Spinach, boiled and drained, ½ cup

3

17

Tofu, firm, ½ cup

3

17

Kidney beans, canned, ½ cup

2

11

Sardines, Atlantic, canned in oil, drained solids with bone, 3 ounces

2

11

Chickpeas, boiled and drained, ½ cup

2

11

Tomatoes, canned, stewed, 1/2 cup

2

11

Beef, braised bottom round, trimmed to 1/8” fat, 3 ounces

2

11

Potato, baked, flesh and skin, 1 medium potato

2

11

Cashew nuts, oil roasted, 1 ounce (18 nuts)

2

11

Green peas, boiled, ½ cup

1

6

Chicken, roasted, meat and skin, 3 ounces

1

6

Rice, white, long grain, enriched, parboiled, drained, ½ cup

1

6

Bread, whole wheat, 1 slice

1

6

Bread, white, 1 slice

1

6

Raisins, seedless, ¼ cup

1

6

Spaghetti, whole wheat, cooked, 1 cup

1

6

Tuna, light, canned in water, 3 ounces

1

6

Turkey, roasted, breast meat and skin, 3 ounces

1

6

Nuts, pistachio, dry roasted, 1 ounce (49 nuts)

1

6

Broccoli, boiled and drained, ½ cup

1

6

Egg, hard boiled, 1 large

1

6

Rice, brown, long or medium grain, cooked, 1 cup

1

6

Cheese, cheddar, 1.5 ounces

0

0

Cantaloupe, diced, ½ cup

0

0

Mushrooms, white, sliced and stir-fried, ½ cup

0

0

Cheese, cottage, 2% milk fat, ½ cup

0

0

Milk, 1 cup

0

0

What is the Daily Value?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) developed DVs to help people compare the nutrient contents of foods and dietary supplements within the context of a total diet. The DV for iron on Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts labels and used for the values in the above table is 18 mg for adults and children age 4 years and older. The FDA requires food labels to list iron content. Foods providing 20% or more of the DV are considered to be high sources of a nutrient, but foods providing lower percentages of the DV also contribute to a healthful diet.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) FoodData Central lists the nutrient content of many foods and provides a comprehensive list of foods containing iron arranged by nutrient content and by food name. (Chart referenced from National Institute of Health)

How can I increase the absorption of iron from my food?

Animal sources of iron such as meat, poultry, and fish contain heme iron while plant-based sources of iron contain non-heme iron. Your body absorbs heme iron better than non-heme iron,

Iron and foods containing vitamin C work really well together, so think of having some fruit, fruit juice, leafy greens, bell peppers, or tomatoes with foods rich in iron. Avoid drinking coffee, cola, or tea with iron-rich meals because the tannins found in these beverages can interfere with iron absorption.

 These food tips may help increase your iron intake by combining iron and vitamin C.

  • Add a glass of orange juice with your breakfast bacon or sausage
  • Include strawberries in your iron-fortified breakfast cereal
  • Incorporate dried cherries, pumpkin seeds, and nuts in your granola
  • Use spinach, kale, bell peppers, and tomatoes in your tofu scramble
  • Include raisins and chopped cashew nuts with your chicken or tuna salad
  • Add broccoli to a tofu stir fry
  • Eat kiwi with your hummus
  • Add molasses to tomato sauce (contains Vitamin C) that can be used in baked beans or chili
  • Make a smoothie with berries, cashew milk, and silken tofu

Blackstrap Molasses

Blackstrap molasses is a good source of iron, has many health benefits, and is an alternative to sugar. It provides 20% of the iron and 10% of the calcium for your daily needs. You can combine blackstrap molasses with iron-rich foods to maximize your iron intake. The recipe below is a great use of black-strap molasses.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Blackstrap Molasses Breakfast Cookies

These healthy blackstrap molasses cookies are made with creamy peanut butter and rolled oats. They taste like a decadent treat but are healthy enough to munch on any time of day!

 Prep Time 10 minutes, Cook Time 8 minutes, Servings 24

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe banana mashed
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups rolled oats (gluten-free if needed)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts

Instructions

1.     Preheat oven to 350°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

2.     In a large mixing bowl, stir together banana, peanut butter, blackstrap molasses, and vanilla until well blended. Stir in rolled oats, baking soda, and salt. Fold in peanuts.

3.     Drop the mixture by rounded tablespoonfuls onto a baking sheet.

4.     Bake 8 minutes.

5.     Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before removing from baking sheets.

Recipe source: Peanut Butter Oatmeal Blackstrap Molasses Cookies - Connoisseurus Veg

References

National Institute of Health Iron https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/ Accessed 12/17/20

Linus Pauling Iron Iron | Linus Pauling Institute | Oregon State University Accessed 12/17/20

Nourish by Web MD Blackstrap molasses: Are there health benefits? Blackstrap Molasses: Is It Good for You? Pros and Cons, Nutrition Information, and More (webmd.com) Accessed 12/17/20

Iron Deficiency and Blackstrap Molasses | Livestrong.com Accessed 12/17/20

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