Gluten-Free Iron-Rich Foods + Recipes
This post features gluten-free iron-rich foods, gluten-free iron-rich recipes, and sources of gluten-free iron-fortified foods. Iron out the gaps in your diet with this post because I’ve got you covered in all things gluten-free and iron!
Table of Contents
Written by Crystal Ulbrich and Edited by Tayler Silfverduk
Why People Need to Be Gluten-Free
People who have celiac disease are sensitive to certain proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. These proteins are known as gluten.
When these grains are consumed by those with celiac disease, an immune response is triggered. This immune response damages the the small intestines. This damage results in the malabsorption of macronutrients and micronutrients.
To prevent this damage, those with celiac disease must follow a lifelong gluten-free diet. Meaning, they must avoid wheat, barley, and rye for the rest of their life. By avoiding these gluten grains they can allow the gut to heal.
But people with celiac aren’t the only people who need to stay gluten-free. So do people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (or gluten intolerance).
But gluten intolerance and celiac are not the same. The key differences between celiac and gluten intolerance is that celiac is an autoimmune reaction, life long, and requires avoidance of gluten cross-contact.
Gluten intolerance on the other hand, can be temporary and doesn’t always require avoidance of cross-contact.
Why Iron is Important
Iron is important for both celiac and gluten sensitivity. Iron helps with oxygen transport throughout the body. It’s essential to keep you alive.
The damage of the gut caused by celiac disease lowers how much iron your body can take up. As a result, those with celiac are at risk for low iron status.
Not only that but those who gluten intolerant are also at high risk for low iron status. This is because many iron-fortified foods are not gluten-free. For example many breakfast cereals are fortified with iron but many are not gluten-free.
And low iron status is serious. Having low iron can cause a variety of problems.
Signs of Iron Deficiency Anemia
Iron deficiency anemia is common in people with celiac. Symptoms of low iron include:
- feeling drained
- pale skin
- cold hands and feet
- feeling lightheaded
Many of these symptoms overlap with celiac disease which is why the proper follow-up celiac disease testing is important. As a refresher this includes a celiac blood test every 3-6 months after diagnosis until your results normalize, and a nutrient panel as needed until normalized.
If you’re experiencing iron deficiency anemia with celiac disease, following both iron labs and celiac labs can help you determine which is causing what symptom.
So for example, you celiac labs are normalizing but your iron is still pretty low, you can deduce your symptoms are related to iron deficiency.
Versus if you celiac panel comes back high but your iron is normal, you can guess that your symptoms are related to gluten exposure.
Why Iron is Important for Celiac
Getting enough iron is important for celiac disease. This is because with celiac, the body struggles to absorb iron due to gut damage from gluten. This impaired absorption puts you at risk for iron deficiency anemia.
Not only that, but a gluten-free diet often lacks iron-fortified foods. This can increase risk of iron-deficiency anemia.
But don’t worry, you can fix your iron status. Sticking to a gluten-free diet for celiac disease can help heal the small intestines. This in turn, will help the body better absorb nutrients like iron. Additionally, increasing iron intake with gluten-free iron-rich foods can help too.
Gluten-Free Iron Rich Food Sources
Gluten-free foods with iron in them include:
- Meats, fish, poultry, eggs
- Seafood such as clams, oysters, shrimp, and sardines
- Potatoes and certified gluten-free oats
- Beans such as kidney, lentil, lima and navy
- Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale
- Dried fruits such as apricots, raisins, and prunes.
- Nuts like cashews, brazil nuts, and walnuts.
Gluten-free iron-rich foods also include gluten-free iron-fortified foods. Common iron-fortified foods include breads and cereals.
Additionally, Pairing non-heme iron with vitamin c can increase absorption. Examples of these pairings include adding citrus to your 3 bean salad recipe. Or adding tomatoes to your spinach salad. You might even fluff your enriched rice with some lime juice.
Lastly, increase iron uptake by limiting coffe and tea at meals. Coffee and tea are high in caffeine which can lower iron absorption. Avoid this by drinking caffeinated beverages outside of meal-time.
Gluten-Free Iron Fortified Foods
Unfortunately, gluten-free fortified food options are limited. This is one area in the food system that gluten-free folk lack support. And it’s sad because fortified foods have a very important role in your diet.
Here’s a quick history lesson in fortified foods. Around the time of World War II, the nutrition status of Americans was questioned. As the draft started, many men were not deemed fit for service due to nutrient deficiencies. This led to the enrichment of wheat flour in the United States.
And so, the American government began fortifying wheat flour with iron, B vitamins, and folic acid to prevent deficiencies.
This however, did not translate into the fortification of gluten-free flours. Because gluten-free flours are not usually enriched like wheat flours are, those living gluten-free are at higher risk for low iron. Thus, it’s important you to pay attention to your celiac diet.
Meaning, you should be familiar with gluten-free high-iron food. Also be aware of how to fortify your own food. The easiest way to do this is with lucky iron fish.
5 Iron-Fortified Gluten-Free Cereals
Here is a list of the top 5 iron-fortified gluten-free cereals:
*Note that all of these cereals are listed as gluten-free but may contain oats and thus, may not be celiac-safe*
- Cheerios – Cheerios provide 70% of the daily value for iron. NOTE: Cheerios are NOT made with certified gluten-free oats, and are not considered celiac-safe. So if you have celiac or can’t tolerate oats, then skip this cereal. On a better note, Cheerios come in a variety of flavors, like honey-oat, frosted, apple cinnamon, fruity, and chocolate.
- Rice Chex – Rice Chex provides 70% of the daily value for iron. The ingredient list is simple: whole grain rice, sugar, salt, molasses, plus vitamins and minerals.
- Cream of Rice Hot Cereal – Cream of Rice hot cereal provides 70% of the daily value for iron.
- Jim Dandy Iron Fortified Quick Grits – These iron-fortified grits provide 60% of the daily value of iron. A bonus is that grits are versatile Enjoy them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
- Corn Chex – Corn Chex provides 45% of the daily value for iron. Great for a snack, too!
Gluten-Free Iron Rich Recipes
Now that we know what iron is, what it does in the body, why it’s a nutrient of concern for celiac, and what foods to find it in, let’s talk about gluten-free iron rich recipes!
Gluten-free Iron-rich Breakfast Recipes
- Spinach Frittata – Get your day started with this iron-packed egg and spinach frittata!
- Blueberry Muffin Protein Grits – This recipe makes it easy to add iron-fortified grits in your diet.
- Pinto Bean Toast – Beans truly are the best, as the case for this iron-packed pinto bean toast! Have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner – or a snack!
- Tropical Overnight Oats – Using celiac certified oats for this breakfast includes additional mega iron sources from dried fruits like apricot and raisins.
- Breakfast Potato Casserole – This breakfast is loaded with iron sources from potato and egg with an extra bonus – lots of veggies to start your day.
Gluten-free Iron-rich Meals
- Spicy Thai Rice Noodle Salad with – This meal will not only load your body with an excellent iron osurse from beef, you can also choose to eat it warm or cold.
- Creamy White Bean Soup with Kale – A family favorite for “Meatless Mondays”, this soup is full of iron from white beans and kale.
- Skillet Pork and Potatoes – This savory combo of pork and potatoes are a great source for iron in your diet.
- Indian Shrimp with Lentils – Seafood is a great source of iron, by pairing shrimp and lentils together, you’ll double the benefits from iron.
- Mexican Lasagna – This Mexican lasagna is a spicy version of the original, and packs on the iron from beef and spinach sources.
Gluten-free Iron-rich Snacks
- Homemade Vegan Protein Bars – These homemade protein bars are loaded from protein sources that include chickpeas, oats, and dried fruits. Just be sure to use certified gluten-free oats or purity protocol oats to make these celiac-safe.
- Make Your Own Trail Mix – Customize this recipe to include your favorite iron-rich foods. Think nuts and dried fruits. If you add “extra crunch” be sure it’s gluten-free.
- Apricot Date Nut Bites – Cashews and dried fruit from apricots and dates make these nut bites a great source of iron.
- Hummus – Chickpeas are an excellent source of iron. This classic hummus recipe can be used as a dip with veggies, a spread on your sandwich, or added to your salad.
- Cheeseburger Muffin – These cheeseburger muffins are packed with iron! If you don’t like ground beef use ground turkey instead! Both are great sources of iron.
Ironing out the Details
Living gluten-free, whether for celiac or gluten intolerance, puts you are risk for low iron status. This fact is not meant to scare you but to build awareness.
Because if you know you’re are risk for low-iron, you can take steps to lower the risk. Steps like healing your gut if you have celiac. Or, being more mindful of gluten-free iron-rich food sources.
Above all, if you’re worried about your iron-status, get help.