Increase Iron Absorption: Absorption Varies With the Type of Iron
There are two basic types of dietary iron - heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is the type found in meat products such as beef, liver, fish, and chicken. Non-heme iron is a plant based form of iron found in legumes, nuts, some fruits, and dark, leafy greens. Absorption of heme iron is more efficient than the non-heme iron derived from plant sources. This means if you're a vegetarian, you'll have to consume higher amounts of non-heme iron to get the same benefits as those who get their iron through animal sources. Non-heme iron absorption can be enhanced by adding a small amount of a heme iron food such as meat to a meal.
Increase Iron Absorption: Preparation
Cooking meat appears to increase iron absorption - particularly if it's cooked in a cast iron skillet. Although this is a good way to enhance iron absorption, it shouldn't be used to prepare food for children under the age of four since they're more sensitive to the effects of a high iron intake. Cast iron skillets also shouldn't be used for deep frying.
Increase Iron Absorption: The Importance of Vitamin C
Vitamin C helps to increase the absorption of both heme and non-heme iron from the diet. Thus, eating iron-rich foods along with a food high in vitamin C will ensure better iron absorption. Some of the best sources of vitamin C are papaya fruit, red bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, and oranges. These vitamin C rich foods are also nutritionally rich in their own right.
Increase Iron Absorption: Avoid Foods That Reduce Iron Absorption
Certain foods can also reduce iron absorption. This is particularly true of phytates - compounds found in beans, nuts, whole grains, tofu, and some seeds. Paradoxically, these foods are also good sources of iron. Phytates have the ability to bind to iron and reduce its absorption. One way to reduce the phytates in beans is to soak them overnight and discard the water before cooking them. The tannins in tea can also reduce iron absorption. Avoid drinking tea with meals to get maximize iron absorption from your food.
Increase Iron Absorption: A Word of Caution
Before taking measures to increase iron absorption through diet, make sure you really need the extra iron stores. High levels of dietary iron intake and high iron stores may contribute to heart disease and other chronic diseases. Most menstruating women need extra iron, but men and most post-menopausal women don't. To find out if you're deficient in iron, see your doctor for lab studies.