According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an inadequate supply of iron is the most common deficiency symptom. Iron deficiency anemia affects about 30% of the world’s population. The trace element is a central component of the red blood pigment hemoglobin and is therefore important for the transport of oxygen in the blood. Typical signs of iron deficiency – known as anemia (anemia) – are tiredness, exhaustion, poor concentration and headaches. However, a weakened immune system or changes in the mucous membrane can also be signs of an inadequate supply.
Do I need meat to meet my iron requirement?
If an iron deficiency is detected, this is the first recommendation of many Medical professionals: Eat more meat. But is meat really the best supplier of iron and does it mean, conversely, that vegetarians and vegans automatically have an iron deficiency?
If you look at the iron content of various foods, you will see that plant-based foods contain just as much iron as they do Meat – sometimes even have higher quantities. In particular, green vegetables such as spinach or Swiss chard as well as whole grain products are valuable sources of iron. Muscle meat contains around 2 mg iron per 100 g, spinach has 2.9 mg, wholemeal flour 4 mg and oatmeal even 4.6 mg per 100 g. So you can also get enough iron with plant-based foods.
Then where does the recommendation come from that meat consumption is the ultimate in iron deficiency? This is because not only the amount supplied plays a role in the iron supply, but also how well the trace element is absorbed (reabsorbed) in the intestine. Only 5-10% of the iron supplied actually reaches the body. This rate depends heavily on what else is eaten, what the person’s iron status is and what form the trace element is in.
By combining different foods, you can greatly influence absorption. The simultaneous intake of vitamin C, citric acid, beta-carotene or certain amino acids (e.g. cysteine) increases iron absorption. Coffee, black tea and dairy products, on the other hand, inhibit them.
That is why we have also added natural vitamin C from the acerola plant to our iron tablets to increase absorption in the intestine .
Heme vs. Non-heme iron
The form in which the iron is available is also important. Animal foods are called heme iron because the trace element is bound in the form of hemoglobin (blood) or myoglobin (muscles). Since the iron atom sits relatively firmly in this structure, it reacts less with other food components. The intake of heme iron is therefore not as influenced by other factors. Non-heme iron occurs in plants, but can also be found in animal foods (e.g. milk and dairy products).
Foodstuffs of plant origin can contain substances (e.g. phosphates or phytates) which form complexes with iron – which is not so firmly bound here – and thus hinder absorption. In addition, heme iron can be absorbed directly from the intestine. The absorption rates are therefore higher here than with non-heme iron. The latter must first be converted in the intestine. So-called reducing agents such as vitamin C or citric acid play an important role in this chemical reaction.
Heme iron has a negative impact on health
Iron from meat or fish is therefore more readily available than iron plant foods. But this supposed advantage is suspected of having considerable disadvantages. Too much heme iron is said to be the cause of the harmful effects of increased meat consumption. Unlike heme iron, the body can block the absorption of non-heme iron. An “too much” of non-heme iron can therefore be counteracted. This is not the case with heme iron. What does not seem dramatic at first, but can have far-reaching consequences. Too much iron can lead to the formation of carcinogenic free radicals and is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
That you can get enough iron without animal products is proven by a Study from Switzerland. In this study, the vegan group consumed more iron than vegetarians and mixed dieters.
Conclusion: This is how you supply your body with iron in the best possible way
Women should take 15 mg daily, men 10 mg iron to take in. Anyone who suffers from heavy blood loss during menstruation, is pregnant, breastfeeding or regularly donates blood has an even higher need. In order to ensure an adequate iron supply, it is advisable – not only in these cases – to use supplements.
What should you watch out for when eating and taking supplements?
- Do not drink coffee or black tea with your meals or when you are taking your supplements. Cola can also reduce absorption due to its high phosphate content.
- Use dietary supplements that combine iron with vitamin C (like our Nutri-Plus Iron tablets ).
- It is best to take supplements on an empty stomach or between meals to prevent iron absorption is reduced by other food components.
- Eat some fruit for dessert or drink a glass of orange juice with meals.
- Do not Milk and dairy products.
- Use whole grain products and green vegetables more often.
- Do not take your iron supplements at the same time as calcium and magnesium supplements.
- Note that there may be interactions with some drugs such as L-thyroxine or some antibiotics. Talk to your doctor here.