Tips for Boosting Iron Absorption
Have you struggled to keep your iron levels up? Iron deficiency anemia is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies that I see in my professional practice! My husband with Crohn’s has struggled with iron deficiency in the past, so I recall that he felt really tired, got out of breath easily, and felt cold a lot.
Iron is a mineral, and its main purpose is to carry oxygen in the hemoglobin of red blood cells throughout the body so cells can product energy. When the body’s iron stores become so low that not enough normal red blood cells can be made to carry oxygen efficiently, a condition known as iron deficiency anemia develops.
Did you know that the amount of iron the body absorbs isn’t always the same? For example, the body will absorb more iron from foods when iron stores are low and will absorb less when stores are sufficient! 
When your iron levels and stores are low, use these 4 tips to enhance iron absorption:
Tip 1: Aim to include one iron source per meal. The body absorbs 2-3 times more iron from animal sources than from plant sources. Include animal-based (heme) and plant-based (non-heme) iron at the same meal can help absorption.
Tip 2: In one research study , taking 100 milligrams of vitamin C with a meal increased iron absorption by 67%. Include foods high in vitamin C with plant-based sources of iron (see vitamin C sources below).
Tip 3: Cook acidic foods in cast iron pots; this can increase the iron content of food up to 30 times ! But if you’re like me and don’t like to clean a cast iron skillets, there are small iron fish that you can pop into the dishes you’re cooking to boost the iron inside (one example, the one that I bough for my husband is called the “Lucky Iron Fish“, but I’m not sponsored or paid to mention them, so I think you can find cheaper versions on Amazon too).
Tip 4: Some foods decrease absorption of iron. When eating iron-rich foods, avoid eating high calcium foods (such as milk and yogurt) and coffee or tea (both regular and decaf). Drink coffee or tea between meals rather than with a meal .
Vitamin C Sources to Boost Iron Absorption
Pro tip: Pair your plant-based sources of iron with vitamin C to boost its absorption!
Fruits with Vitamin C
(Please note if you are following a low-fiber diet: melon, mango, and oranges are naturally lower in fiber, but juiced fruits will provide the same amount of vitamin C with the least fiber)
- kiwi fruit
Veggies with Vitamin C:
- red bell peppers
- tomatoes (and tomato juice)
- sweet green peppers
Want more personalized recommendations?
Still feeling confused about how to boost your iron absorption? I help my clients implement a highly personalized nutrition plan that brings clarity around which to foods to add that may be beneficial, reduces fear and anxiety around eating, reduces inflammation, and ultimately helps them to get their lives back.
Want to chat more about your specific situation? Let’s get in touch!
1. Richard Hurrell, Ines Egli, Iron bioavailability and dietary reference values, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 91, Issue 5, May 2010, Pages 1461S–1467S, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2010.28674F
2. Hallberg L, Hulthén L. Prediction of dietary iron absorption: an algorithm for calculating absorption and bioavailability of dietary iron. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 May;71(5):1147-60. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/71.5.1147. Erratum in: Am J Clin Nutr 2000 Nov;72(5):1242. Erratum in: Am J Clin Nutr 2001 Aug;74(2):274. Erratum in: Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Nov;84(5):1253. PMID: 10799377.
3. Alves C, Saleh A, Alaofè H. Iron-containing cookware for the reduction of iron deficiency anemia among children and females of reproductive age in low- and middle-income countries: A systematic review. PLoS One. 2019;14(9):e0221094. Published 2019 Sep 3. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0221094
4. Zijp IM, Korver O, Tijburg LB. Effect of tea and other dietary factors on iron absorption. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2000 Sep;40(5):371-98. doi: 10.1080/10408690091189194. PMID: 11029010.