Discover Iron Food Sources and Factors Affecting Its Absorption

Iron is essential for maintaining good health and a deficiency reduces delivery of oxygen to your cells, causing fatigue and a compromised immune system.

Dietary iron comes in two different chemical structure forms: heme and nonheme.

Heme iron, the best absorbing form, is found in animal food sources, such as:

  • fish
  • poultry
  • red meat
  • chicken livers ~ best source

Nonheme iron, most common dietary source, is found in plant food sources. Some stand outs for this type of iron include:

  • kale
  • beans
  • lentils
  • spinach
  • molasses
  • soy beans ~ best natural source
  • iron-enriched and iron-fortified foods

Iron absorption refers to the amount of dietary iron that the body takes and uses from foods you consume. Your body’s storage level is greatest absorption factor, and which form, heme or nonheme, dietary iron consumed playing a role as well.

Heme iron absorption from meat proteins is the most efficient, while nonheme iron absorption is markedly influenced by various food components. Nonheme iron absorption is improved by meat proteins and vitamin C, and decreased by:

  • calcium
  • tannins ~ in tea
  • some soybean proteins
  • polyphenols/phytates ~ in legumes and whole grains

Recommended daily intake for males/non-menstruating women is 8 mg, 18 mg for menstruating women and 27 mg for pregnant women.

Pay special attention to include foods enhancing nonheme iron absorption under these circumstances:

  • pregnancy
  • daily iron intake is less than recommended
  • iron losses are high ~ heavy menstrual periods
  • strictly nonheme sources consumed ~ vegetarian diets

Infant iron absorption is best with human breast milk and low with cow’s milk. Infant formula takes a distant second on this absorption list.

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