4 Tips To Improve Iron Absorption
Iron is an essential nutrient, crucial for building red blood cells in the body. Experts recommend a higher iron intake if you’re eating a plant-based diet, but make sure you’re absorbing as much iron from your food by using these 4 easy meal hacks!
Not all forms of dietary iron are created equal. While it’s entirely possible to get all the iron you need from plant-based sources, the form of iron found in plants (non-heme iron) is less easily absorbed by your body than the heme form found in animals and fish - meaning those eating a plant-based diet may need to eat up to twice as much iron to compensate.
Learn more about animal and plant-based sources of iron.
4 Tips for getting more iron from a plant-based diet
Luckily, with these four simple hacks you can optimise your body’s absorption of the non-heme iron found in plants – making sure you get the most out of every meal!
1. Add some vitamin C to your meal
Vitamin C makes it easier for your body to absorb non-heme iron, so adding a glass of orange juice or a sliced kiwi to your breakfast oats will increase the amount of iron you take-up from your plant-based breakfast.1,2
2. Wait for your coffee
Coffee and tea are rich in polyphenoles, which are molecules that drastically reduce iron uptake. Therefore if you’re looking to maximise the amount of iron you absorb from a meal, it’s best to avoid drinking your caffeine alongside your food. Instead, wait until well after you’ve finished eating to ensure your body can uptake the iron it needs unhindered.3
3. Watch out for calcium
Calcium is a crucial mineral in our diets, but calcium also inhibits iron absorption if eaten with a meal.4 Therefore try and avoid taking calcium supplements or drinks fortified with calcium (such as many plant-based milks) when you’re eating - get your calcium at other times of the day to ensure you’re not sacrificing your iron intake!
4. Soak any raw beans, seeds and grains
Phytate is a naturally occurring so-called ‘antinutrient’ that inhibits iron uptake in your gut. It’s present in raw beans, seeds, and grains, but can be drawn out of your food by soaking, fermenting, or sprouting (letting the seeds begin to grow in a moist environment.) before eating. This will significantly reduce the amount of phytate you end up taking in, thereby improving your body’s absorption of the iron in your meal!5
For example: Before cooking, simply let a cup of raw chickpeas (or any other legume) soak for 20-60 minutes and drain the water afterwards. Alternatively, let the soaked chickpeas sit in an open glass jar for two to three days to let them sprout. Cook them with your favourite curry or for a loaded burrito bowl and enjoy a healthy source of protein with that extra dose of iron.
Have you tried any of these tips to maximise your body's iron absorption? Let us know in the comments below!