What are the types of iron?

Published April 22, 2014

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Iron, is an important essential for men’s and women’s health, providing vital nutrition for energy production as well as being an important part of hemoglobin in blood cells. There are two forms of this nutrient to be aware of when monitoring your iron levels. Iron can be found in heme or non-heme form, and in some cases, both can be found in the same product. Knowing the difference between the two types of iron will help people understand where their iron comes from and how much they need.

Plants are the main source of non-heme iron, and only contain minute traces of heme iron. Generally speaking, most heme iron will come from meat sources. Meat does contain both forms of iron. Over half of the iron found in meat is non-heme (55-60 per cent) and the rest is heme iron.1

Most iron found in supplements are non-heme, and this is also found in grains such as rice, wheat and oats, as well as fruits, vegetables and nuts.1 Coffee, tea, fiber and eggs are commonly known to lower the body’s ability to absorb iron, yet they will only have an effect on the absorption of non-heme iron.

Calcium is also capable of lowering iron absorption. In this case, both heme and non-heme intake can be affected, therefore those looking to up their iron levels may cut down on calcium to ensure all sources of the nutrient are maximized. However, it’s important to seek the advice of your healthcare professional if this is a concern.

The difference between heme and non-heme for your body is that non-heme must first be changed so it can be absorbed. This generally means non-heme isn’t absorbed quite as easily, which is why vegetarians must eat significantly more iron-rich foods to ensure they gain the same levels of iron as meat eaters.

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