One of the first symptoms people with chronic kidney disease may experience is a drop in energy. This can be a sign that anemia has developed; one of the most common effects of CKD. Eating iron-rich foods is a great way for CKD patients to keep anemia from worsening.
In this article, we’ll be reviewing the iron-rich foods that can be incorporated into a renal diet for CKD patients. You’ll also be able to download a free printable iron-rich foods list below.
Don’t miss out on the anemia diet plan included at the end of this article. It may give you insight into how easy it can be for CKD patients like you to get iron-rich foods into your diet!
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Table of Contents
Anemia is when the body does not have enough red blood cells. This creates a deficiency in delivering oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.
It can be very important to get enough oxygen throughout the body, especially for those with kidney disease. The kidneys need plenty of oxygen to do their jobs.
Anemia is one of the most common complications of kidney issues.
Symptoms of Anemia
Often, people with anemia can experience;
- Low energy levels
- Decreased appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Shortness of breath
Your nephrologist and health team will track your hemoglobin (red blood cell) levels in your blood results.
If left untreated, this can lead to further problems with the heart, including heart failure.
Hemoglobin is a protein in the blood. It carries oxygen around to organs and cells.
Hemoglobin levels for healthy individuals should be between 14 – 18 g/dL for men and 12.0 – 16 g/dL for women.
For those with kidney disease, hemoglobin levels may start to drop. In dialysis, the goal for hemoglobin is 10-11 g/dL.
This is typically measured weekly in hemodialysis and monthly in peritoneal dialysis. Medications are then adjusted as needed by the dialysis team.
Iron and Kidneys
Iron is a mineral. It is used in the body to help with growth and development, including making our DNA. Iron is also a part of hemoglobin.
Iron is also used to make myoglobin. The role of myoglobin is to help with getting oxygen to the muscles.
Iron in blood test results
Your doctor may check your iron levels. This can include;
- serum iron
- serum ferritin
You can learn more about these in our Stage 4 Kidney Disease Guide.
Recommended Daily Amount of Iron
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of iron is as follows.
|Age and life cycle||RDA for Iron|
|Men (ages 19 to 50+)||8 mg/day|
|Women (ages 15 to 50)||18 mg/day|
|Pregnant Women||27 mg/day|
|Postmenopausal Women||8 mg/day|
The Tolerable Upper Intake Limit (UL) is 45 mg/day. Taking in more iron than this can cause gastrointestinal distress.
Is iron good for my kidneys?
As mentioned, iron is very important for the body. And with kidney disease, some people may not get enough iron. In these cases, a doctor will prescribe iron supplements.
However, this does not mean that everyone with kidney issues should take iron supplements.
People with kidney issues, especially those on dialysis, can develop hemochromatosis. This is when there is too much iron in the blood.
One of the functions of our kidneys is to create red blood cells. When someone has kidney disease, they may not be able to make enough red blood cells.
This is how many people with chronic kidney disease can develop anemia.
Types of Iron in the Diet
When it comes to adding iron-rich foods to your diet, it’s important to know the different types of iron available.
The most common type of iron is heme iron. This one is most absorbable by the body. The amount of heme iron absorbed from food is approximately 15% to 35%.
Heme iron is found in animal products including meat, seafood, and eggs.
The second type of iron is non-heme iron. This one is found in plants including fruits, vegetables, grains, and even spices.
Meats and animal products can also have non-heme iron as well as heme iron.
Non-heme iron is less absorbed than heme iron, between 2% and 20%. However, because there are many sources of non-heme iron in the diet, it contributes to more iron in the body.
Iron-Rich Foods for CKD patients
There are a lot of iron-rich foods that are good for CKD patients to enjoy as part of the renal diet. Since everyone has different diet needs, this is a complete list of iron-rich foods.
There may be certain foods or food groups that aren’t for you. For example, if you are on a low protein diet, you may not be eating meat, seafood, or eggs.
Feel free to skip that section and move into the vegan iron-rich foods that can still be a great source of iron.
As mentioned, animal meats and meat products will have the highest amount of heme iron available. This is because animals, like us, also have iron in their body.
Meats that have iron include:
Seafood, also animal meat products, can be iron-rich as well. Some iron-rich seafood include;
Eggs are surprisingly high in iron (as well as protein). One large egg will give you 0.8 mg of iron.
If you stick to egg whites for a low phosphorus diet, you will not get the iron. Iron is stored in the egg yolk, along with other nutrients like B vitamins.
While animal meats are a good source of iron, there are great plant-based sources too! And adding more vegetables to a renal diet provides plenty of other benefits.
Some vegetables that also have iron include;
- String beans
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potatoes
- Tomato paste or sauce
Even fruits can be a source of iron-rich foods. And for CKD patients following a renal diet, fruits should be included as well.
Fruits that are a good source of iron are generally dried. That being said, there are some fresh fruits that still have iron as well.
Some examples of iron-rich fruits include;
- Dried apricots
- Dried peaches
- Prunes and prune juice
Keep in mind that dried fruits are also high in potassium. Keep portions and frequency in mind if adding dried fruits. If you need to limit potassium, dried fruits should be limited or avoided.
Beans & Legumes
Bean and legumes are a great part of a renal diet for CKD patients. Packed with plant-based protein, fiber, and tons of other vitamins and minerals, everyone can find an option to enjoy here.
Some of the beans and legumes that are especially iron-rich include;
- Kidney beans
- Navy beans
- Black-eyed peas
Nuts & Seeds
While many worry about the phosphorus in nuts and seeds, it’s actually something that can be included! The key is to identify the smaller portion size. Nuts and seeds are also packed with tons of nutrients, and a little goes a long way.
There are a good variety of nuts and seeds that also have non-heme iron. Some examples include;
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Pine nuts
- Macadamia nuts
- Sunflower seeds
In general, a serving of nuts is 1 ounce. A serving of seeds is 2 tablespoons.
Bread, Grains, and Cereals
Interestingly enough, the group of grains can be a great source of iron. This is because many grain products are fortified with iron and other nutrients.
Grains that are a good source of iron include;
- Fortified/enriched rice
- Fortified/enriched cereals (both hot and cold)
Herbs and Spices
Yes, even herbs and spices have iron in them! Not only will you be giving your meals a boost of iron, but by swapping out some salt for spices, you can help your kidneys by following a lower sodium diet.
Some spices that include iron are;
- Bay leaves
- Anise seed
Each of these will provide approximately 0.2 – 0.5 mg per teaspoon dried.
Thyme, however, will provide a whopping 1.2 mg per teaspoon of dried leaves. Try adding it to a sheet pan of roasted veggies.
Other iron-rich foods
There are some other foods that must be mentioned here, too. Even condiments can have iron.
Here are some foods that you can add to your diet for more iron;
- Blackstrap molasses
- Coconut milk
- Dark chocolate
Think chocolate can’t be included? Think again! This is another one of those items that, when limited, can provide benefits without the risks. If you eat too much, though, you may see higher phosphorus levels in your blood test results.
Printable Iron-Rich Foods List
There is a lot of information here, including all the foods that are iron-rich. You can get all this information for free, right now.
Tips to Increase Iron Absorption
There are a few things you can do to help make the most of your iron-rich foods.
Pair with vitamin C-rich foods
By adding foods high in vitamin C, you’ll be increasing the absorption of iron. Adding vitamin C-rich foods with non-heme iron foods may increase the absorption of iron by up to 400%. Plus, vitamin C is a great antioxidant.
Here are some foods high in vitamin C:
- Bell Peppers
- Chili Peppers
Avoid tea and coffee at meals
Both tea and coffee have nutrients that can prevent the absorption of iron.
If you are adding iron-rich foods into your renal diet in an effort to prevent anemia, be sure to drink your coffee or tea separately from your meals.
Use Cast Iron Kitchen Equipment
The classic cast-iron skillet is a great staple of a kidney-friendly kitchen. The iron from the pan will actually leach into the food.
One study found that cooking with iron pots instead of Teflon led to a 16.2% increase in the iron content of food.
Find it on my Amazon* shop for anemia support.
Lucky Iron Fish or Lucky Iron Leaf
This little guy can swim through your soups, stews, or other liquid-heavy meals for 10 minutes and it will release 6 to 8 milligrams of iron into your food!
You can also use it to infuse iron into your water and tea! Just include in the boiling water as instructed.
Research on the Lucky Iron Fish shows using it at least 3 times per week can potentially increase iron stores.
Find the lucky iron fish on our Amazon shop*.
Anemia Diet Plan
Here is a sample meal plan that focuses on anemia prevention. Included are some of the iron-rich foods listed above.
Feel free to make out changes that you prefer. Remember- this is just a sample!
1 cup of iron-fortified breakfast cereal
1-2 Tbsp raisins
1-2 Tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 cup milk of choice
**Drink coffee or tea separately from meal
2 cups Spinach salad topped with cucumbers, mushrooms, red onion,
1 cup of fresh strawberries
Water with a slice of lemon
1 oz Almonds
1 cup Tofu, mushroom & string bean stir fry
1 cup brown or wild rice
1 square dark chocolate
Anemia is a common issue with kidney disease. When it comes to iron for CKD patients, it’s important to get enough.
By adding a variety of iron-rich foods into your diet, you can help support your kidney health.
Heme sources of iron are more absorbable. They come from meats, seafood, and eggs.
Non-heme sources of iron are less absorbed but still beneficial. They come from vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, and even herbs and spices.
Other foods like blackstrap molasses, dark chocolate, and coconut milk also provide non-heme iron.
Pairing iron-rich foods with foods that are rich in vitamin C will help the absorption of iron. Avoid tea and coffee with these meals and snacks as they can block iron absorption.
Finally, use cooking tools like a cast-iron skillet or lucky iron fish to infuse your cooking with more iron.
Don’t forget to get our free Iron-Rich Foods List!