In America, about 2% of men and 9-20% of women have iron deficiency anemia. Along with this, iron can be a difficult nutrient to consume enough of through your diet alone, which is why it’s important to consume cereals high in iron.
While iron is naturally found in a variety of foods, including red meat, beans, chocolate, tofu, spinach, tomatoes and potatoes. But, even so, it’s difficult to get the required amount of iron you need from these foods alone.
That’s why iron fortified cereal can be great if you struggle with iron deficiency anemia or just want to ensure you are consuming enough iron to prevent deficiency.
Why is cereal fortified with iron?
Cereal along with other grains are typically fortified with iron. Why is this? Well, iron can be incredibly difficult to get through natural sources alone.
Even if you regularly consume high iron foods like red meat, beans, spinach and tomatoes, it can still be hard to reach the recommended amount.
Cereal is fortified with iron along with some other micronutrients to help prevent deficiency and make it easier to reach the recommended daily amount.
Food fortification is a great low cost way to prevent malnutrition not only in the US, but all across the globe. Plus, it’s been shown to be effective at helping to prevent a variety of nutrient deficiencies, including iron deficiency anemia.
In fact, fortification has helped reduce the prevalence of iron deficiency anemia by 34%, which is quite large! Considering about 1.5% of deaths can be attributed to iron deficiency anemia, this is a huge achievement that is quite literally life saving.
What is considered an “excellent” source of a nutrient?
A food product is considered an “excellent” source of a nutrient if it contains at least or greater than 20% of your daily recommended needs.
You can easily check this by looking at the nutrition label. Search for “iron” (typically near the bottom of the label) and scan your eyes across to find a percentage. That percentage describes the percent of the daily recommended amount of iron that that product contains per serving.
So, when searching for a good cereals high in iron, that’s a great starting point. Try to avoid cereals that don’t provide at least 20% of your daily iron needs.
15 Cereals that are High in Iron
Number one on the list is Frosted Mini Wheats. One serving (25 biscuits) contains 18 mg or 100% of your daily iron needs. That’s right… 100%! This is a great option if you have iron deficiency anemia and want a good cereal to increase the iron in your blood.
Next up is Quaker Oatmeal Squares. One serving (1 cup) provides 16.5 mg or 90% of your daily iron needs. This is another great option to help get in all the iron you need.
My personal favorite, Honey Bunches of Oats are another great source of iron. One serving (1 cup) contains 16.2 mg or 90% of your daily iron needs. Plus, it tastes amazing.
Rice Chex is a great gluten-free cereal option. One serving (1 ⅓ cup) provides 12.6 mg or 70% of your daily iron needs. Corn Chex is another good option with 60% of your daily iron needs.
Corn Flakes may not be the most exciting type of cereal, but it sure does the job! One serving (1 ½ cups) contains 12 mg or about 60% of your daily iron needs.
Life Cereal is super delicious and comes in several flavors including original, cinnamon and vanilla. One serving (1 cup) contains 11.1mg or about 60% of your daily iron needs.
Special K Red Berries is another classic breakfast cereal option. One serving (1 ¼ cup) contains 10.8 mg or 60% of your daily iron needs. Their Chocolatey Delight cereal also contains the same amount of iron.
Frosted Flakes, the more exciting version of Corn Flakes (in my opinion) is another great source of iron. One serving (1 cup) contains 7.2 mg or 40% of your daily iron needs.
Last (but not least) Cap’n Crunch is another delicious and iron-rich cereal. One serving (1 cup) contains 7 mg or 35% of your daily iron needs.
How to maximize the amount of iron you absorb
While it’s important to ensure you are getting plenty of iron in your diet, it’s also important to ensure the iron is being properly absorbed.
One way to do this is pairing high-iron foods with a good source of vitamin C, since vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron. Some examples of foods high in vitamin C include red peppers, oranges, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries and tomatoes.
A great example of an iron-rich breakfast would be a bowl of cereal with milk and a glass of orange juice. This way, you are getting in a high iron food (cereal) along with a food high in vitamin C (orange juice) to aid in its absorption.
Why is iron important in your diet?
Iron plays a variety of functions in your body. First, it’s an important part of hemoglobin (a red blood cell), which transports oxygen from your lungs to your tissues. It also plays a role in maintaining muscle and tissue, physical growth, cellular functioning and creation of certain hormones.
Iron deficiency anemia can lead to a host of negative side effects including poor digestion, weakness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, cloudy thinking, poor immunity and body temperature regulation.
People that are at higher risk include pregnant women, infants and young children, women with heavy periods, frequent blood donors, cancer patients, those with IBD or other digestive disorders and those with heart failure.
While less common, there are risks to having excessive iron. If you are consuming iron from food sources (like these cereals that are high in iron), this is very rare. But, if you are supplementing with iron, make sure to only stick to the dose recommended by your doctor.
What about the added sugar in cereal?
One of the biggest concerns about breakfast cereals is the added sugar content. And this is a completely valid concern. That being said, it’s best to focus on your overall added sugar intake throughout the day or week instead of in a single meal.
If you enjoy sugary cereals in the morning, consider lowering your added sugar intake throughout the day. It’s best to consume 10% or less of your daily calories from added sugars. This is about 50 grams if you are consuming 2000 calories per day.
So, let’s say you love Frosted Mini Wheats. One serving contains 12 grams or about ¼ of your daily added sugar (if you are consuming 2000 calories of course). While the cereal contains some added sugar, it doesn’t make a huge dent in your daily sugar intake.
To sum it up, if you love cereal that is a bit higher in sugar, you don’t need to switch to a different, lower sugar option. Instead, just be mindful about your overall added sugar intake throughout the day.