As it relates to our diet, there are two different kinds of iron. Heme iron and non-heme iron.
Non-heme iron comes primarily from plants, and plants do not contain Heme iron. Heme iron comes primarily from meat, but meat also contains some Non-heme iron. Heme iron is not essential to our diet, but iron itself is.
Heme iron is said to have an absorption rate of 15%-35% while non-heme iron absorbs into our body at a rate of 2%-20%. Generally speaking the body absorbs heme iron better, but there isn’t any way you can enhance the absorption rate of heme iron.
You can enhance the absorption rate of non-heme iron, and if iron is something you’re trying to get more of into your diet, this article will be of interest to you.
Vitamin C and Absorbic Acid Boosts The Absorption Rate of Non-Heme Iron
First, let’s get this out of the way. Vitamin C and absorbic acid are not exactly the same thing.
(Above quote sourced from The Absorbic Acid Blog.)
Their Boosting Powers Work Much Better When Consumed At The Same Time As Non-Heme Iron
One study showed that when consumed separately from non-heme iron, absorbic acid had almost no affect on the absorption rate. The conclusion was that “The facilitating effect of vitamin C on iron absorption from a complete diet is far less pronounced than that from single meals.” So, to get the best result, you’ll want to consume vitamin C or absorbic acid around the same time that you eat, drink, or supplement the iron you’re wanting to absorb.
Reported Rates Of Absorption Enhancement Vary
While the rate of enhancement by adding vitamin C or absorbic acid may vary, there’s no doubt that both of these help. It’s very possible they help much more than we even know as of yet.
- This study demonstrated that absorbic acid doubled the absorption of iron from spinach.
- This study showed that orange juice (which contains vitamin C) enhanced the rate of non-heme iron absorption by two and a half times.
- This article sourced a study that stated you can increase your absorption of non-heme iron by up to six-fold by including vitamin C in your meal!
Interested in eating or juicing vegetables and fruit that are high in vitamin C? Here is a list of 15 top vegetables and fruit that are high in this vitamin.
Does Citric Acid or Other Organic Acids Boost Iron Absorption?
I have been able to find studies that show that citric acid along with something else has been able to boost iron absorption, but I’ve only been able to find one study that showed that it did so all on its own.
The one study that I found was interesting, because it showed that different organic acids boosted or decreased absorption of iron in different ratios. What I found really interesting was that there are two further classes of iron beyond heme and non-heme. These are Fe(ii) and Fe(iii).
Iron in foods is commonly found in the ferric form (Fe(III), and the study I just linked to above showed that citric acid and oxalic acid actually enhance the uptake of this type of iron.
The way I see it is that citric acid is already in many fruits that also contain vitamin c, such as, oranges, lemons, and limes. So why not eat or juice some of those fruits when you’re looking to boost the amount of iron you absorb? It can’t hurt!
In the same study above it was shown that many other organic acids also boosted the availability of iron for absorption. The author of A publication found inside of PubMed postulated that, “fermented foods that already contain high levels of organic acid may be suitable iron fortification vehicles.”
Food for thought for anyone who eats fermented food or is looking for another reason to start doing so!
Mis-Information About Oxalic Acid
If you try to find out if oxalic acid, also called oxalates, interferes with the absorption of iron, you’ll get a whole lot of contradicting information. Many articles claim it does, some others say it doesn’t. The truth is there are studies that demonstrate clearly that oxalic acid does not interfere with the type of iron that’s in foods.
Initially, it took me a bit of time to find these studies because I wasn’t aware that heme and non-heme iron are also called haem and non-haem iron. United States English speakers call these heme and non-heme. British English speakers call these haem and non-haem iron.
This study here clearly demonstrated that oxalic acid does not influence nonhaem iron absorption in humans.
If you recall, as already mentioned in the section prior to this one, there was a study that showed that oxalates not only didn’t inhibit the kind of iron found in foods, but they actually enhanced the uptake of it.
What To Avoid That Lowers The Absorption Rate of Non-Heme Iron
Coffee, tea, dairy products, soy, eggs, nuts, grains, and antacids can all interfere with absorption of iron.
Phytic acid is the main culprit inside of grains and nuts that interferes with iron. Grains and nuts can both be soaked and sprouted in order to avoid them interfering with iron absorption. Some people soak, sprout, and then either dehydrate or cook these after. Many raw foodists simply soak them, rinse them off well, and then eat them.
The best way to avoid interference with iron absorption with coffee and tea is simply to drink these in between meals.
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