Is your iron level too low? Choosing the right foods is important, but it’s also critical that the iron be adequately absorbed. Here are some simple ways to increase iron absorption.
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. It’s estimated that up to one-third of pre-menopausal women are deficient in this necessary trace mineral. This is particularly true of those who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet or who restrict their calorie intake excessively. Although iron deficiency is more common in women, it can also be seen in men – particularly athletes; but keep in mind that iron deficiency is less common in men and women who are post-menopausal and, if it occurs, could be a sign of blood loss from the digestive tract which requires evaluation. To keep iron stores at an appropriate level when there’s a deficiency, it’s critical to eat foods that are high in iron. It’s also important to make sure that iron is being properly absorbed from iron-rich foods that are eaten. What are some ways to increase iron absorption?
It Varies With the Type of Iron
There are two basic types of dietary iron – heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is the type found in meat products such as beef, liver, fish, and chicken. Non-heme iron is a plant based form of iron found in legumes, nuts, some fruits, and dark, leafy greens. Absorption of heme iron is more efficient than the non-heme iron derived from plant sources. This means if you’re a vegetarian, you’ll have to consume higher amounts of non-heme iron to get the same benefits as those who get their iron through animal sources. Non-heme iron absorption can be enhanced by adding a small amount of a heme iron food such as meat to a meal.
The Importance of Vitamin C
Vitamin C helps to increase the absorption of both heme and non-heme iron from the diet. Thus, eating iron-rich foods along with a food high in vitamin C will ensure better iron absorption. Some of the best sources of vitamin C are papaya fruit, red bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, and oranges. These vitamin C rich foods are also nutritionally rich in their own right.
Cooking meat appears to increase iron absorption – particularly if it’s cooked in a cast iron skillet. Although this is a good way to enhance iron absorption, it shouldn’t be used to prepare food for children under the age of four since they’re more sensitive to the effects of a high iron intake. Cast iron skillets also shouldn’t be used for deep frying.
Avoid Foods That Reduce Iron Absorption
Certain foods can also reduce iron absorption. This is particularly true of phytates – compounds found in beans, nuts, whole grains, tofu, and some seeds. Paradoxically, these foods are also good sources of iron. Phytates have the ability to bind to iron and reduce its absorption. One way to reduce the phytates in beans is to soak them overnight and discard the water before cooking them. The tannins in tea can also reduce iron absorption. Avoid drinking tea with meals to get maximize iron absorption from your food.
A Word of Caution
Before taking measures to increase iron absorption through diet, make sure you really need the extra iron stores. High levels of dietary iron intake and high iron stores may contribute to heart disease and other chronic diseases. Most menstruating women need extra iron, but men and most post-menopausal women don’t. To find out if you’re deficient in iron, see your doctor for lab studies.