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How to: increase Daily Iron Intake

Updated: Jul 9, 2020


Iron is that wonderful little vitamin that transports the oxygen needed to keep your body functioning. In the United States, out of non-pregnant women, 7.6% are anemic and out of the adult male population are 3.5% anemic. Unfortunately, letting go of anemia, or ignoring the signs of anemia with the hopes it will fix itself is not the answer. Your organs need oxygen to function properly. In other words, you need iron to live!

Symptoms of low iron can be any combo of the following: brain fog, excessive tiredness, dizzy spells, general weakness, cold extremities, shortness of breath, chest pain, and speedy heartbeat.

Take notice, these aren’t tiny symptoms that magically disappear. Oftentimes, our daily lives will be interrupted by any of these symptoms.

One thing that’s been hammered into my head is to never self diagnose or self prescribe (put down the iron pills unless a doctor has recommended them!). This is especially true with over the counter supplements because they aren’t regulated by the FDA. Even more reason for caution. The bottom line? If you do suspect iron issues, please talk to your healthcare provider for further, more in depth discussions on this topic.

Maybe you already know you need more iron or your doctor told you to increase the iron by eating more. What can we do to increase our daily iron intake? First, let’s understand that there are two kinds of iron: plant derived and animal derived, they make a difference in absorption. Second, we need to learn how to absorb iron more efficiently. Third, it’s important to know what foods derail our body’s absorption of iron.

Let's dive right in, shall we?

PLANT VS. ANIMAL

Non heme iron: comes from plant sources and is absorbed less efficiently.

Being Vegetarian, you will need to increase your iron intake by 1.8% to ensure your body actually absorbs enough. Though our bodies may take in less iron with plant sources, we also have to remember that there is more non-heme iron per serving than meat, the vitamin C in plants help absorb iron, and is well-regulated once in your body. This means that if we take in too much, our body will know how to get rid of excess. Here are some examples of non-heme iron and how much of your Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) each provides.

  1. 3.5 oz cooked spinach (20% RDI)

  2. 1 cup lentils (37% of RDI)

  3. Pumpkin seeds 1 oz. i(23% RDI)

  4. 1 cup of cooked quinoa (15% RDI)

  5. 1 cup of cooked broccoli (6% RDI)

  6. ½ cup of tofu (19% RDI)


Heme iron: Comes from meat based sources and contains more absorbent iron. The human body will absorb this kind of iron easily, though it doesn’t know how to get rid of extra heme iron. Another thing is, heme iron will cause oxidative stress on the body, having an opposite effect of antioxidants. About 20 to 25% of heme iron is absorbed at a time. Here are examples of heme iron sources, assuming you eat about a 3 ounce serving.

  1. Lean red meat

  2. Chicken

  3. Fish

  4. Don't drink coffee or milk with meal

How to increase iron absorption:

  1. Have some vitamin C with your iron rich food.

  2. Vitamin A and Beta Carotene (Your orange veggies)

  3. Cooking your veggies (such as spinach) to increase the amount of iron you will absorb

What decreases Iron absorption:

  1. Calcium (milk/cheeses)

  2. Phytate (breads/legumes)

  3. Polyphenols (tea/wine)

  4. Tannins (tea/coffee)

When searching for nutrition information like how to increase iron intake, we often find contradictions. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the nitty gritty. For example, legumes have properties that make the iron less absorbent, but legumes are listed as an iron rich food option. The bottom line is, eating iron rich foods in abundance will ensure your body the proper amount. It’s better to do something than nothing at all. Live well, be free!


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