But it can be tough to actually hit the 18 milligrams of iron recommended daily for women between the ages of 19 and 50. “Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder,” says Harris-Pincus. And if you’re not a huge fan of red meat, it can be doubly hard to get enough of the nutrient. That’s because, according to the National Institues of Health, vegetarians require about 32 milligrams of iron per day to meet their needs!
Why the big difference? There are actually two kinds of iron—heme and non-heme. “Plants and foods fortified with iron contain non-heme iron only, whereas poultry, meat, and seafood contain both heme and non-heme iron,” says Harris-Pincus. Heme iron is easier for the body to absorb, so if you’re relying primarily on non-heme iron to fulfill your iron quota, you’ll need to chow down on way more milligrams to make it count.
So how can you jack up your iron intake without relying on red meat? Here are seven iron-rich foods that provide just as much—or more than—the two to two-and-a-half milligrams of iron in an average serving of red meat.
While you may associate molasses with that batch of holiday gingerbread cookies, you’ll get three-and-a-half milligrams of iron in one tablespoon of the sticky brown sweetener. “Like the other plant-based varieties, this iron is non-heme so have it with another source of iron or vitamin C,” says Smith. Think oatmeal, plus molasses, plus berries on top—a perfect breakfast! It’s also loaded with other nutrients. “Blackstrap molasses is packed with antioxidants and other nutrients like bone-healthy calcium and magnesium, as well as vitamins B6 and the thyroid-healthy selenium,” says Smith.
Popeye was definitely onto something. A half-cup of boiled spinach provides three milligrams of plant-based iron, says Harris-Pincus. And that’s not all. “It’s a good source of close to 20 vitamins and minerals, not to mention a tasty addition to so many dishes,” she says. Swap in spinach for your next salad or side dish and add in some citrus to help boost your absorption of the mineral.
Yes, it’s true—get a dose of iron while satisfying your sweet tooth. Just three ounces of cacao nibs or cocoa powder serves up roughly seven milligrams of iron. “It’s non-heme iron so not quite as absorbable as animal protein-based iron, but it is rich in heart healthy flavonoids and brain healthy magnesium,” says Smith. Not a bad reason to give into your chocolate fix.
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health.