Strategies to boost your body's iron absorption
To enhance your ability to absorb iron from your diet, especially if you're at risk of or in need, such as during pregnancy, consider these strategies:
- Consume more heme iron: Iron comes in two forms in foods—heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron, found in animal products like meat, fish, and poultry, is better absorbed by the body than non-heme iron from plant-based sources. If you're a meat eater, opt for lean meats like chicken or turkey to increase your heme iron intake.
- Pair with vitamin C: Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) enhances the absorption of non-heme iron from plants. Try consuming iron-rich plant-based foods alongside vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits, bell peppers, or broccoli to boost iron absorption.
- Avoid combining with calcium and coffee/tea: Calcium and compounds in coffee and tea can inhibit iron absorption. Try not to consume these substances simultaneously with iron-rich meals or iron supplements.
- Cook in cast-iron cookware: Cooking in cast-iron pots can increase the iron content of food, especially when preparing acidic foods like tomatoes that react with the iron in the pot, enhancing iron absorption.
- Limit excessive fiber at meals: Fiber-rich foods like whole grains, seeds, and nuts can decrease iron absorption if consumed in large amounts during the same meal. Spreading your fiber intake throughout the day can help.
- Address underlying issues: Some medical conditions or medications can affect your ability to absorb iron. If you have chronic health issues or take medications that impact iron absorption, consult your doctor on how best to manage your iron needs.
- Consult a dietitian or physician: If you struggle to maintain adequate iron levels despite efforts to boost absorption, it may be wise to consult a dietitian or physician to discuss your specific needs and any necessary supplements.
Consult with a doctor or dietitian before taking iron supplements
Remember, balance is crucial. Too much iron can be harmful, so strive to maintain a healthy level of iron in your body. Always consult with a healthcare provider before taking iron supplements or making dietary changes to enhance iron absorption.
Test your iron levels
If you're experiencing symptoms of iron deficiency and are wondering if you need iron tablets, it may be a good idea to test your iron levels. Choose to test only for iron or do a comprehensive iron deficiency test to find out if your symptoms may be due to iron deficiency and if you may need to supplement your diet with iron supplements.