Most keto-friendly foods offer an abundance of healthy fats, and here at Konscious Keto, we follow that protocol wholeheartedly. But there are some other essential vitamins and minerals needed to support holistic health on a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet.
Along with healthy fats and muscle-building proteins, it's vital to eat keto foods high in iron to optimize your health. We'll share more on the benefits of consuming an appropriate amount of iron below.
For starters, iron helps keep our energy levels high and plays a significant role in maintaining healthy immune function, as well as helping to prevent anemia.
Iron is also needed to boost hemoglobin—a red protein primarily responsible for transporting oxygen in the blood. Besides, in addition to all the other benefits mentioned, iron also improves concentration and promotes deeper restorative sleep!
Why Should You Eat Keto Foods High in Iron?
Some may choose to take iron supplements to ensure adequate levels, especially if their diet is less-than-stellar. However, eating your iron in vegetable form is a cost-effective way to consume this vital mineral, as well.
Plus, eating your iron is a fantastic option because foods that contain iron are also rich in other vital vitamins or minerals, needed to support optimal health.
Fortunately, there is a wide variety of iron-rich foods that will efficiently work within your low-carb macros on keto. Here are some food options to enjoy that boost iron levels while helping to maintain metabolic ketosis:
Oysters, mussels, and clams are often eaten by those following a ketogenic diet, thanks to their low carb count. However, shellfish are also rich in iron—a great reason to drop by a crawfish boil and dig in as summer continues to heat up.
Furthermore, the form of iron found in shellfish—known as heme—is a variation that is more easily absorbed by the body than the variety found in plant-based sources, just another reason to indulge in some seared, wild-caught salmon!
You can bet, these tasty sea dwellers help to increase HDL cholesterol in the bloodstream—and increased HDL levels matter because it promotes heart health (a.k.a., good cholesterol).
Some note concerns about mercury or toxins in shellfish, but the healthful benefits of seafood appear to outweigh any possible risk. With that noted, you can make an effort to buy seafood from highly-reputable sellers to limit the chances of unwanted exposure.
Here are some keto-friendly meal options using shellfish:
- Shrimp and broccoli stir-fry
- Crawfish and grass-fed salted butter with a side of creamed spinach
- Smoked oysters with a spritz of fresh lemon juice and a side of asparagus slathered in grass-fed butter
- Lobster tail with cauliflower mash, doused in grass-fed butter
- Alfredo clam sauce with steamed zucchini noodles and olive oil
- Smoked salmon pinwheels filled with cream cheese and chives
- Trout with an orange spritz, thyme and a drizzling of omega-3-rich avocado oil
Dark leafy greens, like spinach, are a great low-glycemic veggie to include in any ketogenic meal plan. In addition to ranking super low on the GI scale, spinach is also a potent source of iron—think Popeye!
Although a non-heme form of iron, and therefore less bioavailable, spinach remains a vital source of the nutrient because it contains vitamin C, which naturally aids in iron absorption.
Also, spinach is an anti-inflammatory food thanks to antioxidants called carotenoids, thought to reduce the risk of cancer. Plus, eating delicious servings of creamed spinach can even help improve eye health, so eat up.
Consuming spinach and other dark leafy greens is an excellent option on a ketogenic diet, overall. Furthermore, keto and spinach are a perfect pair since combining dark leafy greens with healthy fats, like extra virgin olive oil, helps the body better absorb carotenoids.
Here are some keto-friendly food options using spinach:
- Creamed spinach
- Spinach sauteéed in grass-fed butter
- Breakfast Frittata with spinach, peppers, and onions
- Citrus Keto Smoothie
- Mini spinach meatloaves
3. Organ Meats
You may remember your mom strongly encouraging you to eat liver because of her claims that it's so good for you. Well, as usual, mom was right! Organ meats like liver, kidneys, and even, although less prevalent in the US, heart and brain are nutritional powerhouses.
Also, organ meats are rich in essential nutrients like selenium and vitamin A. They are also some of the best sources of choline, a nutrient that's vital to brain and heart health—and many people in the US are deficient.
The differences in the benefits of a variety of organ meats are worth noting; here are the standouts and how they can support your health on keto:
We know the mention of it may trigger uncomfortable lunchroom memories from childhood, but give liver—especially grass-fed beef liver— a chance because it contains the densest nutrition of all the organ meats.
Also, the animal liver is rich in micronutrients that can be difficult to get from other sources, and those primary nutrients are zinc, choline, vitamin B12, folate, iron, copper, and preformed vitamin A.
Here's how the nutrients in liver affect the body:
- Zinc: supports hormonal production and immune function
- Choline: promotes healthy cell membranes and cognitive function
- Folate: used for DNA repair, methylation, and energy production
- Copper: helps to increase the absorption of iron, especially in the gut (e.g., beef liver is a rich source of iron).
- Vitamin B12: used for methylation and promotes energy production
- Preformed vitamin A (a.k.a retinol): supports eye and immune health
Animal kidneys are rich in many of the same nutrients found in the liver, particularly selenium. This attribute is vital because the antioxidant mineral, selenium, is essential to sex hormone production and optimal immune health.
Interestingly enough, eating animal kidneys is excellent for the health of our kidneys, go figure! Lastly, selenium is crucial for renal health as well as kidney function.
The heart is rich in B-complex vitamins (B3, B6, and B12), as well as folate, zinc, and selenium. Interestingly enough, once again, consuming heart is said to have a cardioprotective effect, as it helps prevent heart disease, similar to the respective benefit found in eating kidneys.
Furthermore, the folate found in the tongue is particularly beneficial for women who are looking to conceive, or are pregnant, as it prevents birth defects like spina bifida or heart problems.
To that end, once more, eating brain meat is said to support human brain health and function, primarily thanks to its omega-3 fatty acid content, along with a variety of other nutrients.
Here are some keto-friendly meal options using organ meats:
- Beef liver with onions sautéed in grass-fed butter or ghee
- Rosemary liver burgers with a side of broccoli, topped off with olive oil and sea salt
- Beef heart stuffed with garlic, herb cheese, and chives
- Chicken liver mousse with keto-friendly crackers, and a side of ripe avocado
- Keto BBQ liver meatballs
- Low-carb oxtail stew
4. Pumpkin Seeds
There are many nut and seed options that work well on keto, and pumpkin seeds certainly fit the bill.
In addition to being a handy snack on-the-go and a great source of iron, pumpkin seeds offer several other nutrients. Pumpkin seeds also contain protein, vitamin K, manganese, and it’s one of the best sources of magnesium we can eat!
Besides, it's important to note the magnesium contained in these powerhouse seeds as this nutrient is known to prevent insulin resistance and ward off depression, as well.
Pumpkin seeds are very nutrient-dense and great to carry in snack packs to fuel up wherever you are, throughout the day. Roast some pumpkin seeds and add additional nuts or seeds to create some keto granola that you can eat throughout the week.
Here are some keto-friendly meal options using pumpkin seeds:
- Roasted pumpkin seeds
- Honey mustard pumpkin seeds with thyme
- Pumpkin seed cream sauce
- Pumpkin seed and low-carb raspberry muffins
- Lemon trout with a sage pumpkin seed crust
We always advise opting for darker, fattier cuts of meat and that holds true with turkey. Listen, this delicious and savory meat is not just for Thanksgiving; it's fantastic meat to keep on hand to eat throughout the week on a ketogenic diet—and it's packed with iron!
Also, in addition to a healthy helping of iron, dark meat turkey contains zinc, B vitamins, selenium, and it’s rich in muscle-building protein.
Here are some keto-friendly meal options using turkey:
- Turkey soup with zucchini noodles (dark meat)
- Cold turkey salad with mayo, cucumbers, lemon, cilantro, and salt
- Turkey, mushroom and zucchini noodle soup
- Classic (leftover) turkey sandwich on keto bread, with keto mayo
Cruciferous veggies like cauliflower, Brussel's sprouts, and broccoli are great when you want to keep your diet super low-carb. Some more good news, broccoli is high in iron! Also, broccoli offers a healthy serving of fiber as well as vitamin C, which helps the body absorb iron better.
The vegetables noted in this section are excellent on keto because they are so low-carb, but they also provide cancer-fighting compounds like folate, indole, sulforaphane, and glucosinolates—pretty incredible!
Here are some keto-friendly meal options using broccoli:
- Broccoli cheese casserole
- Loaded broccoli platter (e.g., think nacho platter with a broccoli base in place of chips)
- Broccoli cheddar soup
- Broccoli salad with fresh dill
- Butter-fried broccoli
7. Dark Chocolate
Deep, dark, chocolate that's rich in cocoa is a superfood, and it's a great source of iron. Snack on some raw nibs, or whip up a hot chocolate with loads of antioxidants to meet your iron needs.
Besides, studies have shown dark chocolate to have more of an anti-oxidative effect than some berries! Furthermore, dark chocolate also provides prebiotic fiber, which promotes the proliferation of healthy gut bacteria.
Also, dark chocolate is associated with reducing the risk of heart attacks, stroke, and risk for high LDL (or bad) cholesterol, when consumed regularly.
But remember, not all chocolates are the same. Flavanols are healthy compounds found in chocolate that is as undiluted as possible, highly concentrated. We suggest going for a chocolate option with at least 70% pure cocoa, for maximum health benefits.
Here are some keto-friendly food options we love using dark chocolate:
- Avocado chocolate pudding
- Dark chocolate bars ( > 70% cacoa, ie. Lily’s Chocolates)
- Dark chocolate walnut fat bombs
- Keto chocolate fudge
- Chocolate truffles
- Dark chocolate almond bark
Iron is an essential element that we all need, regardless of our diet. But it is crucial to keep in mind that we already lose an increased amount of electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals when we drastically reduce carbs to establish nutritional ketosis, by depleting our glycogen stores.
Fortunately, many of the iron-rich foods we've shared above also provide an abundance of other nutrients in which some may be deficient—to provide much needed and well-balanced nutrition.
A ketogenic diet is about so much more than weight loss; it's a lifestyle. Keep your focus on micronutrient intake to make sure you're sufficiently fueling your body. Over time your body will adapt to running on fat and ketones for fuel, and your body will thank you.
There are so many options to add to your meal plan that are rich in iron, flavor, and dense nutrition. Sample some of the food and meal ideas that we've shared above and have fun with the process, as you work to achieve nutritional ketosis.
Adequate iron levels contribute to the healthy function of so many systems in the body. Even if you've shied away from it in the past, consider adding organ meats, rich healthy fats, and loads of dark leafy greens to your diet—dense nutrition is the name of the game.
Plus, adding iron-rich foods to your keto plan will allow you to experience some of the tastiest dishes this keto lifestyle has to offer, while helping your body run optimally and ensuring a well-rounded nutrition program, to promote vibrant health.
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