Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying molecule in red blood cells. Deficiencies can lead to fatigue, weakness, pale skin and irritability. If you have low iron levels, your doctor might recommend increasing the iron in your diet. However, because only about 1 g of iron out of every 10 to 20 g eaten is actually absorbed by the body, you might have to employ a few tricks to improve iron absorption or find other ways to increase blood iron levels.
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Eat plenty of meat, especially organ meats. The heme iron found in meat is more readily absorbed than the nonheme form found in plants. Beef, lamb, dark-meat chicken, pork, oysters and liver are all sources of heme iron.
Consume leafy and cruciferous green vegetables, such as spinach, collard greens, broccoli and kale, along with meals containing red meat or foods containing vitamin C, such as orange juice and tomatoes. Absorption of the nonheme iron found in plants improves when these foods are paired with heme iron or vitamin C.
Add other iron-containing foods to your meals as side dishes or ingredients. These can include beans, legumes, amaranth, quinoa, dried fruits, yeast-leavened bread and iron-enriched cereals and breads.
Drink a glass of prune juice every day. Prune juice contains about 3 mg of iron per cup.
Cook foods in cast-iron pots and pans. Foods simmered in iron absorb some of the mineral and pass it along to you when you eat the food. Acidic foods such as tomato sauce, lemon juice and red wine are especially prone to absorbing iron from cooking pots.
Take an iron supplement as prescribed by your doctor. Drink a glass of orange juice when you take your supplement to boost absorption.
Avoid eating foods that reduce iron absorption, or wait a few hours after an iron-containing meal to eat these inhibitory foods. Foods that negatively impact iron absorption include black or pekoe tea, coffee, eggs and foods high in calcium, fiber and soy protein.