If you’ve been feeling tired, irritable, and slightly weak, you may be suffering from iron-deficiency anemia – and you’re not alone. Iron anemia is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies globally, including in developed countries. This is a problem as iron performs many essential functions for the human body, including carrying hemoglobin (oxygen) throughout your system as a part of red blood cells. Fortunately, eating certain foods is the easiest way to add more iron.
There are two types of iron found in food – heme and non-heme – both are essential parts of your diet. Heme iron is more readily absorbed into your body and can be found in poultry, meat, and fish. According to the American Red Cross, when eating these meats, your body absorbs up to 30% more of the heme iron it consumes. Non-heme iron is found in plant-based foods such as nuts, fruits, and vegetables and is still a part of a well-balanced diet. In comparison to heme iron, between 2-10% of non-heme iron is consumed by your body.
Heme-rich foods include but are not limited to the following: lean ground beef, turkey, chicken, pork, liver, ham, eggs, shrimp, tuna, oysters, salmon, and clams. On the other hand, there are plenty of non-heme foods such as broccoli, peas, spinach, string beans, sweet potatoes, kale and other greens, watermelon, raisins, strawberries, prunes, dried peaches, and dried apricots.
It is also important to note that some drinks and foods can either help or hinder your body’s ability to absorb that much-needed iron. Taking vitamin C and iron is a great way to help your body take in the nutrients fast and effectively. You can also pair both heme and non-heme foods together – double win! Things you should avoid when taking in more iron are tea, coffee, and calcium-rich foods and drinks. If you are still worried about your reaching the correct iron levels, talk to your doctor or health care provider about taking an iron supplement.