All about Iron Absortion

What does Iron do?

Iron is a core nutrient in the body. Yes we all know this, but why?

It is part of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. It maintains cell function and is vital in infant brain and nerve development.¹

Iron found in food is in two forms, heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron,  makes up approx. 40 percent of the iron in meat, fish, and, poultry, which is well absorbed. Non-heme iron, makes up 60 percent of the iron in animal tissue and all the iron in plants (grains, fruits,vegetables,nuts). It is less well absorbed.

Individuals who are vegans or vegetarians should familiarize themselves with foods that are high in iron and facilitate iron absorption .

Some people think that because vegetarians eat iron foods that are less well absorbed that they are more iron deficient. However, surveys conducted on vegans ²‚³ found that iron deficiency anemia is not any more common among vegetarians than among the rest of the population.

Vitamin C helps to absorb iron. Eat Right Ontario  recommends that you can…

  • Squeeze lemon juice (source of vitamin C) on cooked spinach.
  • Eat pasta with tomato sauce (source of vitamin C).
  • Bok choy, broccoli (contain iron and vitamin C)


Calcium and tannins (found in tea and coffee) reduce iron absorption. They should not be taken at the same meal that is iron rich.

The recommended daily amount as suggested by the Dietitians of Canada for iron is 8 mg/day for adult men and for women 51+ and 18 mg/day for women aged 19-50. Vegetarians need almost twice the daily recommended amount of iron compared with non-vegetarians, as iron from plant-based foods is not absorbed as well by our bodies as animal food sources.

Iron in Foods

Food Serving size Iron (mg)
Vegetables and Fruits
Spinach, cooked 125 mL (½ cup) 2.0-3.4
Tomato puree 125 mL (½ cup) 2.4
Edamame/baby soybeans, cooked 125 mL (½ cup) 1.9-2.4
Lima beans, cooked 125 mL (½ cup) 2.2
Asparagus, raw 6 spears 2.1
Hearts of palm, canned 125 mL (½ cup) 2.0
Potato, with skin, cooked 1 medium 1.3-1.9
Snow peas, cooked 125 mL (½ cup) 1.7


Grains Products
Oatmeal, instant , cooked 175 mL (¾ cup) 4.5-6.6
Cream of wheat, all types, cooked 175 mL (¾ cup) 5.7-5.8
Cereal, dry, all types 30 g (check product label for serving size) 4.0-4.3
Granola bar, oat, fruits and nut 1 bar (32 g) 1.2-2.7
Cracker, soda 6 crackers 1.5-2.3


Meats and Alternatives
Meat and Poultry
Duck, cooked 75 g (2 ½  oz) 1.8- 7.4
Moose or venison, cooked 75 g (2 ½  oz) 2.5-3.8
Beef, various cuts, cooked  75 g (2 ½ oz) 1.4-3.3
Ground meat (beef, lamb), cooked 75 g (2 ½  oz) 1.3-2.2
Lamb, various cuts, cooked 75 g (2 ½  oz) 1.3-2.1
Chicken, various cuts, cooked 75 g (2 ½  oz) 0.4-2.0
Pork, various cuts, cooked 75 g (2 ½  oz) 0.5-1.5
Ground meat (turkey, chicken, pork), cooked 75 g (2 ½  oz) 0.8-1.2
Turkey, various cuts, cooked 75 g (2 ½  oz) 0.3-0.8

Sources: Dietitians of Canada, Food Sources of Iron. Released Feb 28, 2014

*Notice how the iron in common meats compare to those of vegetables.

The Bottom Line

So we learned a thing or two about iron consumption. Absorbing iron is just as important as eating it. Eating a variety of vegetable, grains at nuts is the way to go. From the table above we see that vegetables contain the same amount or even more iron than some of the more common meats. You are well on your way to becoming an ironoligist-yes, and I did make that word up.





1.Dietitians of Canada, Food Sources of Iron. Released Feb 28th, 2014

2.Haddad EH, Berk LS, Kettering JD, Hubbard RW, Peters WR. Dietary intake and biochemical, hematologic, and immune status of vegans compared with nonvegetarians. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;70(suppl):586S-93S.

3.Obeid R, Geisel J, Schorr H, et al. The impact of vegetarianism on some haematological parameters. Eur J Haematol. 2002;69:275-9.

4.Eat Right Ontario. What you need to know about iron. Released April 18th, 2016

5.Cheng-I. W, King-Thom C. , Tit Yee W., Yao-Wen H., Yuan L., Tannis and Human Health: A Review. Critical Review in Food Science and NutritionVol. 38, Issue. 6, 1998





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