How Can I Increase My Iron?

By Dr. Jake Rabinowitz

An overview for managing low iron

By now, you’ve learned about what iron is (What Is Iron?), why it’s important (What Is Low Iron?), the symptoms of low iron (Am I Low Iron? Symptoms), and the tests for verifying a diagnosis (Am I Low Iron? Testing). Now, we’re finally read to fix low iron. 

How to fix low iron?

IV infusions are used in extreme cases. Before it gets to that, low iron can only be resolved by ingesting more iron. This includes eating iron-rich food, taking supplements, and cooking with iron. 

What foods are highest in iron?

Red meat and liver are the best foods for increasing iron. They contain lots of “heme” iron, which is the most absorbed form of iron. Chicken and eggs do, too. However, many people need other options. The best seafood-based iron sources are oysters or clams. The best vegan iron sources are spirulina, cocoa powder, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, lentils, and tofu. These foods provide the most mg of iron per g serving size. When preparing these as meals, incorporate vitamin C (such as lemon juice or tomato sauce) to help your body absorb the iron.

What is the best iron supplement?

We made the Iron Lift to set a new gold standard in iron supplements. We tell you all the advantages of our recipe in Chapter 5. For now, we’ll focus on the form of iron we use – iron glycinate – which is an iron chelate that is GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) approved, highly bioavailable, and easily tolerated.

What is an iron chelate?

In supplements, iron exists as a chemical that is bound to a “carrier” molecule in a salt or chelated form. The salt forms dissolve in your stomach to directly release iron, whereas the chelated forms may release the iron slower, after being metabolized. In salts and chelates, there are different carrier molecules that are used to bind iron into an ingestible format. 

Though there is not much research on this topic, chelated minerals (including iron) are supposed to be more tolerable and bioavailable than salts. The theory behind this is that the chelated form more closely resembles how the mineral is naturally incorporated in food.

Pills

Do other foods affect iron absorption?

Other foods indeed affect your body’s ability to absorb iron. This is why supplements are typically recommended on an empty stomach (though this also makes them harder to digest). Most plant-based foods block iron absorption due to having phytic acid, oxalic acid, and/or polyphenols. Red meat enhances iron absorption due to how it is incorporated in the animal tissue and then digested.  

In addition, vitamin C is uniquely known to enhance iron absorption and overcome the effects of iron-absorption-inhibiting foods. This means you should take vitamin C with iron supplements, and doing so allows taking the supplement with food. Vitamin C boosts iron absorption due to developing a protective iron chelate in the stomach. 

Do cast iron or stainless steel help iron absorption?

Finally, cooking in cast iron or stainless steel (which is typically at least 75% iron) will infuse any food with some extra iron. The iron on the surfaces of pots and pans literally transfers into the food! That’s cool!

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Author

  • Dr. Jake Rabinowitz

    Dr. Jake Rabinowitz is a chemical engineer, PhD, and founder of Smart Eats, where he develops nutrition products with an industry-leading food scientist and a renowned gastrointestinal doctor / nutritionist. You can learn more about Jake's work career on his LinkedIn Profile and his highly-cited research contributions on his Google Scholar Profile.

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