Iron is an essential mineral that the body needs to perform several vital functions. It plays a key role in energy production, growth, development, synthesis of hormones and also boosts the immune response. Hence, it is pivotal to consume sufficient amounts of iron in your regular diet. Well, the foods you eat not only impact how much iron you take but can also influence how well it is absorbed into the system. Once iron is absorbed it’s used as a building block for haemoglobin, the protein in the red blood cells that aids to carry oxygen throughout the body. Iron is also an important element of myoglobin, an oxygen storage protein found in muscles, this oxygen is used by the muscles during physical activity.
Basically iron is present in two natural forms in foods –heme and non-heme sources.
Heme iron is found abundantly in animal foods such as meat, fish and poultry.
Non-heme iron sources are obtained from plant products like grains, vegetables and fortified foods. These food sources are also enriched or fortified with iron to boost their content.
About 85-90 % of total iron intake comes from the non-heme form while the remaining 10-15% comes from the heme form. However, the bioavailability from non-heme is less efficiently absorbed than heme sources.
Foods sources that are rich in non-heme include- fortified cereals, wheat, oats, dark green leafy vegetables, raisins, apricots and all legumes and lentils.
Foods That Hinder Iron Absorption
Certain foods are known to reduce iron absorption which includes:
Foods containing phytate or phytic acid found in whole grains, cereals, soy, nuts, and legumes. However, the negative effect of phytate can be countered by having foods that improve non-heme iron absorption like vitamin C or meat.
Calcium is a vital mineral for bone health, however, studies disclose that it hinders iron absorption, even if the source is a dairy product or calcium supplement. To enhance absorption, calcium-rich foods should not be consumed with meals that contain dietary iron. Furthermore, if you’re taking supplements, calcium and iron supplements should be taken at different times of the day.
Polyphenols are rich in several plant foods and beverages including vegetables, fruits, legumes, tea, coffee, and wine. Tea and coffee are the widely consumed beverages with high content of polyphenols that have been shown to inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron. To counteract the negative impact of polyphenols, ensure to have a couple of hours gap between having an iron-rich meal and your tea or coffee.
Foray this infographic to know about ways to boost your iron stores.