Friday, September 3, 2010

Pumping Iron: Increase the way your body absorbs iron

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia world wide.

Iron deficiency can be caused by lack of iron in the diet. It can also be caused by heavy bleeding.

Iron's role in the body:
  1. Transport and storage of oxygen.
  2. Aid in energy production and cell diffusion.
  3. Helps the immune and central nervous systems.  

How much iron should I eat per day:
Men 11mg/d
Women 18mg/d (during pregnancy 30mg)

2 Types of dietary (from foods) iron:
  1. Animal source: Heme iron
  2. Plant source: Non-heme iron; not as easy for us to absorb as heme iron because this form of iron requires an extra step for it to be broken down into the form that we can absorb.  


First, you must know: When nutrients are digested they are broken down into forms that your body can absorb. After nutrients are absorbed they are used, stored, or excreted (gotten rid of).

Calcium Vs Iron:
Iron and calcium (and zinc) are absorbed at the same site in the small intestine. If iron and calcium are eaten in the same meal, they will compete for the absorption site.  Usually, calcium will out-compete iron and be absorbed. (Zinc is in so many foods that it is usually not a problem in healthy people).

In part, the amount of iron we absorb from foods depends on how much we have stored. When our iron stores are low, we absorb more iron from foods.

If our calcium stores are also low, we will want to absorb more calcium first in order to save our bones.

Pre-Pairing for battle (Sorry, that was pretty corny)
  • Iron is better absorbed if it is paired with an acid such as ascorbic acid, better known as Vitamin C.
    • The acid helps to break down iron into the form that our bodies can use.
    • Although the stomach is very acidic, it has been shown that eating acidic foods with iron rich foods can increase iron's absorption.
Plant sources of Iron:
  • Whole grains (first word on the ingredient list should be "whole")
  • Beans and legumes
  • Some iron fortified cereals (keep in mind that milk has calcium)
  • Brown rice
  • Spinach (also high in calcium)
Healthy sources of Vitamin C:
  • Berries
  • Tomatoes
  • Citrus fruits like oranges, grape fruits, and tangerines
  • Bell peppers
Examples of pairing these foods in a meal:
  • Spinach, tomato, and cheese omelet with a glass of orange juice
  • Chicken or beef fajitas with peppers and refried beans
  • Fish with lemon
  • Whole grain pasta with pasta sauce

  • You need 18mg iron per day for women and 11mg per day for men.
  • If you have low blood iron, you should eat calcium rich foods separately from iron rich foods.
  • Healthy people should pair your iron rich foods (plant and animal sources) with vitamin C rich foods

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