Iron - are you getting enough?

The facts on the most common nutritional deficiency in the world and what to do about it.
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  • Updated:1 Nov 2005

03.What foods help/hinder iron?

How much iron you absorb from food, particularly non-haem iron from plant foods, also depends on what you eat and drink at the same time. A number of substances in foods influence the percentage of iron absorbed from foods.

Foods that help

Vitamin C-rich foods (like most fruits) and the protein in meat can increase the amount of iron you absorb from fruits, vegetables and cereals.

Tip: You can probably double the amount of iron your body gets from a breakfast cereal, for example, if you have a glass of orange juice at the same time.

Foods that hinder

Some compounds in foods, called inhibitors, bind with iron and stop it being absorbed through the walls of the bowel into the bloodstream. Some inhibitors are present in foods which also contain iron, while others you can simply avoid eating or drinking at the same time as you consume your iron. This is particularly important for non-haem iron, which is hard to absorb anyway.

Inhibitors include:

  • Tannins found in tea and coffee.
  • Phytates in beans, peas and lentils, and in fibre-rich cereals, such as bran.
  • Oxalates in spinach and some other dark green vegetables.
  • Phosvitin in egg yolk.
  • Antacids and aspirin.
  • Calcium and zinc supplements — the calcium and zinc compete for absorption with the iron in food.

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