5 Ways to Increase Iron Intake

Posted on: June 21, 2016

By Dr. Esther Catalya, Hematologist + Oncologist

Why is iron so important?

Iron is one of the main components our body uses to keep active. It’s necessary to produce proper hemoglobin molecules, which deliver oxygen throughout our bodies. When your body is lacking iron, it is easy to become fatigued, even with very little activity. We will review some dietary ways you can increase iron intake.

Iron comes in two dietary forms- heme and non-heme. Heme is primarily absorbed from lean meats and seafood. An individual can absorb up to 30 percent of the iron from food itself, whereas nonheme is absorbed from plant based foods such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Nonheme foods only allow your body to absorb between two and ten percent of the iron because it is more difficult for our body to process compared to heme iron.

When you aren’t getting enough iron, there is a common disease that occurs, called iron-deficiency anemia. This disease is more prevalent amongst vegetarians, since they don’t consume the easier to absorb heme from meat and seafood. However, vegetarians are not the only individuals with this disease. There are many simple ways to increase iron intake, starting with your diet.

What are foods that can increase iron intake?

As previously mentioned, lean meat and poultry are important foods that help to increase and maintain iron levels. Some examples of foods containing heme iron are; turkey, lamb, beef, pork, and liver. Seafood is equivalently beneficial for your iron intake and likewise contains heme iron. For those who don’t eat meat, there are other options to increase your iron as well. Dark leafy greens such as; broccoli, spinach, kale, collards and beet greens, as well as nuts and beans, contain significant amounts of iron. When eating only non-heme iron, it is advised that you eat more of these foods in order to meet the daily needs for your body.

How do you enhance the amount of iron absorbed in each meal?

When eating foods that contain nonheme iron, pair them with vitamin C rich foods or drinks (citrus, strawberries, and tomatoes) to enhance the amount of iron you can absorb from the meal. In addition; cooking in a cast-iron skillet increases the amount of iron in your food which can raise your iron levels. When lean meats, poultry or seafood are paired with nuts or dark leafy greens, iron absorption can be improved up to three times. Furthermore, avoid mixing your iron rich foods with calcium, soy proteins, and fibers because these nutrients will inhibit the absorption of iron.

So you’ve changed your diet and still are iron deficient?

When changing your diet doesn’t make a significant difference in maintaining your iron levels, it may be time to start on a medication. Contact one of our hematologist for testing and consultation.