What helps your body absorb iron?

Eating or drinking something rich in vitamin C at the same time you take your iron supplement or eat iron-rich plant foods can help your body absorb significantly more of the type of iron found in non-animal sources. Good vitamin C choices include a glass of orange or tomato juice, a handful of strawberries, sweet (bell) peppers, or half a grapefruit. Meat and fish (sources of heme iron, which your body absorbs much more easily) can also improve your absorption of the iron in non-meat foods. For example, putting a bit of beef in a pot of vegetable chili can help you absorb iron from the vegetables.

What interferes with your body’s ability to absorb iron?

Calcium interferes with your body’s ability to absorb iron. So if you’re taking calcium supplements, or an antacid that contains calcium, don’t take either one while you’re eating iron-rich foods or at the same time as your iron supplement. For the same reason, don’t take your supplement with milk, which is rich in calcium. Drink milk between meals, instead. The same goes for tea and coffee, which contain polyphenols that interfere with the absorption of iron from supplements and plant sources.

Take your prenatal vitamin and eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of iron-rich foods. Red meat is your best bet, although poultry (dark meat), other meats, and shellfish are good sources, too. Non-animal iron-rich foods include beans, tofu, raisins, dates, prunes, figs, apricots, potatoes (leave the skins on), broccoli, beets, leafy green vegetables, whole-grain breads, blackstrap molasses, and iron-fortified cereals. Keep in mind that your body absorbs the iron from animal sources (heme iron) much more readily than the iron from non-animal sources (non-heme iron).One note of caution: Don’t turn to liver for your iron needs. Liver is best avoided during pregnancy because it contains unsafe amounts of vitamin A, which can cause birth defects.

Foods rich in iron include:

  • Lean red meat, such as pork, beef or lamb
  • Eggs
  • Dark poultry
  • Sardines
  • Cashew nuts
  • Wholemeal bread
  • Iron-fortified cereals
  • Lentils
  • Chick peas
  • Baked beans
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Dried fruit
  • Baked potatoes
  • Sunflower seeds

It’s worth bearing in mind that the body doesn’t absorb iron from non-meat sources quite as easily as it does from meat. However, you can help absorption by combining iron-rich foods with food or drinks rich in vitamin C, so as having a glass or orange juice with your meal. Both tea and coffee also reduce the absorption of iron, so it’s better to drink these at least half an hour before you eat or two hours afterwards.

Sources: Net Doctors, Baby and Pregnancy

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