Iron is found naturally in both animal and plant-based foods. Heme iron is the form found in animal products and is most easily absorbed while non-heme iron is the form found in plants.
Roughly 15-35% of heme iron is absorbed compared to 2-20% of non-heme iron. Because non-heme iron is more difficult to absorb, those who follow a plant-based diet are at an increased risk of iron deficiency.
Eating a variety of whole foods can help increase your dietary intake of iron.
Vitamin C has been found to bind to non-heme iron and store it in a form that is more easily absorbed. Foods rich in vitamin C include peppers, citrus, tomatoes, broccoli, peas, strawberries, and kale. Pairing these foods with iron-rich foods can help increase iron levels. A great example of this pairing would be peppers with beans.
Because iron is a difficult mineral to absorb, supplementation may be necessary to achieve adequate levels. That said, it is possible to take too much iron and reach toxic levels. Be sure to consult your doctor first so they can help guide you in knowing which dosage and form of iron is best for you.
Tannins and oxalates are natural compounds found in tea and coffee known to bind non-heme iron and prevent absorption. Rather than eliminating these beverages entirely, consume them two hours away from iron-rich foods or supplements.
When using cast iron, iron is released from the pan and absorbed by the foods being cooked, particularly acidic foods like tomatoes. One study found that cooking with cast iron increased the iron content of food by sixteen percent.
Don’t forget, your hair is a reflection of your internal health. If you’re dealing with hair loss, it’s possible there’s something else going on. If you are concerned about your iron levels don’t hesitate to have a conversation with your doctor and ask for the support you need.