Iron is an essential nutrient that plays a major role within the body. Iron functions in haemoglobin to help red blood cells deliver oxygen to the cells and organs of the body. Iron deficient anaemia, a low status of iron and red blood cells in the body, can lead to fatigue, shortened attention span, irritability and decreased performance. A healthy adult can generally absorb 10 to 15 per cent of the iron he consumes. Individual iron absorption can be influenced by a variety of factors.
Iron is stored by the body for future use. People with less than sufficient supplies of iron absorb more than people who have sufficient stores simply because their body needs more. The body regulates itself to help keep iron stores in balance, avoiding iron deficiency or toxicity.
Vitamin C can help increase non-heme iron absorption when consumed along with iron. Tomatoes, citrus fruits and juices, dark green leafy vegetables and potatoes are excellent sources of vitamin C. Vitamin C helps reduce the iron to a form more readily-absorbed by the body.
The specific type of iron consumed affects absorption. Iron can be classified as heme or non-heme. Approximately 25 to 35 per cent of heme iron is absorbed, while only about 3 per cent of iron classified as non-heme is absorbed. Non-heme iron is found in fruits and vegetables, while heme iron is found only in the flesh of animals. Vegetarians should be especially conscious of the decreased absorption of non-heme iron because this is the only type they consume through dietary intake. Consuming non-heme and heme iron together increases the percentage of non-heme iron absorbed.
Coffee and Tea
Consuming coffee and tea with a meal is shown to decrease the absorption of iron from the foods with which it is consumed. According to Colorado State University, tea can decrease the absorption of iron by 60 per cent and coffee can decrease absorption by up to 50 per cent. The tannins present in coffee and tea are responsible for inhibiting the absorption of iron.