• Maria Cecilia Pfund, FRHC Nutrition Specialist

Tips to Improve Iron Absorption


Iron is essential for energy and maintaining healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen (needed for every cell in our body). Too little iron (iron deficiency) can lead to fatigue, weakness, poor exercise tolerance, loss of appetite and increase the risk for infections and illnesses. During this pandemic we need to strive to do the best we can to keep our immune system strong, and iron plays a big role on this.


Even if we eat many iron-rich foods, not all the iron eaten is absorbed. Below are some tips to help increase absorption.


Focus on the right type of iron. Iron is found in two forms, heme and non-heme. Heme iron is the most easily absorbed form and is found in red meat, dark meat poultry (legs and thighs), liver, pork, and fish (MFP factor: meat, fish, poultry). The body absorbs two to three times more iron from animal sources than from plant sources.


Fruits, vegetables, nuts, fortified cereals, grains, rice, egg yolks, and beans are the best sources of non-heme iron. Consuming heme iron sources together with non-heme sources will improve the absorption of non-heme iron.


Take vitamin C- rich foods together with iron sources. Vitamin C increases absorption of both heme and non-heme iron absorption. Sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits such as lemons and oranges, fresh bell peppers, berries (e.g.: strawberries), cantaloupe, and fresh broccoli. Some ways to pair vitamin C and iron-rich foods could be by adding bell peppers to a bean salad or eating fortified cereal with berries.


Avoid coffee, tea, or red wines with iron-rich foods/supplements. These beverages contain tannins, polyphenols, and phytates, which decrease the absorption of iron.


Avoid pairing up high-fiber foods (whole grains, fruits and vegetables) and/or calcium-rich sources (dairy products) with iron sources/ supplements in the same meal because fiber and calcium decrease iron absorption.


Take-Home Message: Deficiency in iron may cause fatigue, weakness, poor exercise tolerance, loss of appetite and increased risk for infections and illnesses. Some of the tips to improve iron absorption include eating iron sources paired with vitamin-rich foods; and avoiding consuming coffee, tea, red wines with iron-rich sources.


Reference

UVA Health. (2018, July). How to increase iron in your diet. https://www.healthsystem.virginia.edu/docs/per/how-to-increase-iron-in-your-diet/handout_view_patient/@@getDocument

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