Tips for Low Iron Levels (plus a high-iron recipe)

Celiacs, especially when newly diagnosed, are very prone to nutrient deficiencies due to how gluten causes damage to the small intestine (where nutrient absorption SHOULD occur). Iron is one of the most common. In fact, unexplained iron deficiency anemia is a major sign of celiac disease and often a clue that helps people get screened and diagnosed.

That said, I also find low nutrient levels and low iron in my gluten-sensitive clients. Gluten-sensitive individuals do not have damage to the small intestine to the same extent as celiacs. However, many people still struggle to get enough iron in their diet!

In many cases, a supplement is necessary to help rebuild iron stores, but it’s also important to include more iron-rich food sources.

Best Food Sources of Iron

sliced steak on plate

Iron is most concentrated in meat, poultry, and seafood. These foods contain heme iron, which is also the most easily absorbed type of iron. Therefore, in terms of iron, you get the “biggest bang for your buck” with these animal-based foods. For some recipe inspiration, check out my Iron Woman Beef Tacos.

Plant-based foods contain non-heme iron, which is not as well absorbed. Vegans or people with more vegetarian-leaning diets must be extra mindful that they’re getting enough iron, especially if they find out they’re deficient.

Regardless of whether one is an omnivore or vegetarian, including plant-based sources of iron can help meet daily goals. Some top vegetarian sources include lentils (and other beans), prunes, and dark chocolate. The recipe here for High-Iron Pumpkin Chia Pudding includes many others, such as pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and blackstrap molasses.

There are many ways to help increase your absorption of iron from all of these foods, but the first step is usually just to incorporate more of them in your diet.

Why do we need iron anyway?

Iron is essential to the production of hemoglobin, which helps transport oxygen as part of red blood cells. Iron-deficiency typically results in anemia, where you cannot make enough hemoglobin for your red blood cells.

In addition to keeping our blood cells healthy, iron also has other roles for our immune system and antioxidant status. This means that getting your iron levels back into a healthy range can…

  • improve immune function
  • lower fatigue and increase concentration
  • slow hair loss
  • improve sleep and Restless Leg Syndrome
  • boost muscle endurance
  • support our antioxidant function

How much does one need?

The Recommended Daily Allowance for adult women who are pre-menopausal is 18 mg/day. This amount drops to 8 mg/day for post-menopausal women. Please keep in mind that this is the amount for healthy individuals who are maintaining their iron levels. Recommended Daily Allowances do not consider deficiencies, and some people may need more.

Important note: Iron is a “Goldilocks” nutrient, meaning you don’t want too little and you don’t want too much. Please do not start an iron supplement without speaking to a health professional first. It’s also important to monitor every time that you get blood work done (at least annually).

We talk all about what labs to request, what ranges to aim for, and how to achieve them in my Gluten-Free Jumpstart Program. And we go beyond iron to cover all of the common nutrient deficiencies that gluten-free folks often encounter. You can find out more information about the program HERE.

high-iron pumpkin chia pudding

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this delicious, High-Iron Pumpkin Chia Pudding recipe as a nutrient-dense snack. Just one serving packs 5 mg of iron!

You can also eat it as a breakfast, but you may need to add some protein powder to make it more sustaining. (Depending on the protein powder, this may also require more liquid to make the texture right.) Bon appetit!

High-Iron Pumpkin Chia Pudding

Pin Recipe
One serving packs 5 mg of iron, along with fiber, antioxidants, and healthy fats.
Course: Breakfast, Snack
Keyword: dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, grain-free, low-FODMAP, oat-free, paleo, vegan, vegetarian
Servings: 2 servings
Author: Maya Rose, MS, CNS


  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk or another milk of choice
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice


  • In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients. Whisk well, making sure all the seeds are incorporated.
  • As you continue to whisk, pour the pudding into two jars or small bowls. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight to thicken.
  • Top the chia pudding with pumpkin seeds, cacao nibs, more maple syrup, or nuts and serve.


Add a scoop of collagen or protein powder to make it higher in protein and more sustaining.

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