Iron: So as a vegetarian/vegan you are sufficiently supplied!
A lack of iron is the most common deficiency according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Around 30% of the world's population suffers from iron deficiency anemia. The trace element is a central component of the red blood pigment haemoglobin and is therefore important for oxygen transport in the blood. Typical signs of iron deficiency - known as anemia - are tiredness, fatigue, poor concentration and headaches. However, a weakened immune system or changes to the mucous membranes can also be signs of an inadequate supply.
Table of contents:
- Do I need meat to meet my iron requirements?
- Heme vs. non-heme iron
- Heme ants have a negative impact on health
- Conclusion: How to provide your body with the best possible iron
Do I need meat to meet my iron requirements?
Where does the recommendation that eating meat is the best option for iron deficiency come from? This is because not only the amount of iron consumed plays a role in the iron supply, but also how well the trace element is absorbed in the intestine. Only 5-10% of the supplied iron actually reaches the body. This rate depends heavily on what else is eaten, the person's iron status and the form in which the trace element is present.
By combining different foods, absorption can be greatly influenced. For example, the simultaneous intake of vitamin C, citric acid, beta-carotene or certain amino acids (e.g. cysteine) increases iron absorption. Coffee, black tea and dairy products, on the other hand, inhibit it.
If you are diagnosed with an iron deficiency, the first recommendation from many doctors is to eat more meat: Eat more meat. But is meat really the best source of iron and, conversely, does this mean that vegetarians and vegans automatically have an iron deficiency?
If you look at the iron content of different foods, you will notice that plant-based foods contain just as much iron as meat - in some cases even higher amounts.
Green vegetables such as spinach or chard and wholegrain products in particular are valuable sources of iron. Muscle meat contains around 2 mg of iron per 100 g, spinach has 2.9 mg, wholemeal flour 4 mg and oatmeal even 4.6 mg per 100 g. So you can also get enough iron from plant-based foods.
Therefore, we have also added natural vitamin C from the acerola plant to our iron tablets to increase absorption in the intestine.
Haem iron vs. non-haem iron
The form in which the iron is present is also important. Animal foods are referred to as heme iron, as the trace element is bound in the form of haemoglobin (blood) or myoglobin (muscle). As the iron atom in this structure is relatively fixed, it reacts less with other food components. The absorption of heme iron is therefore not so strongly influenced by other factors. Non-haeme iron is found in plants, but can also be found in animal foods (e.g. milk and dairy products).
Plant foods can contain substances (e.g. phosphates or phytates) that form complexes with the iron - which is not so tightly bound here - and thus hinder absorption. In addition, heme iron can be absorbed directly by the intestine. Absorption rates are therefore higher here than with non-heme iron. The latter must first be converted in the intestine. Reducing agents such as vitamin C or citric acid play an important role in this chemical reaction.
Chemical iron has a negative effect on health
Iron from meat or fish is therefore more readily available than iron from plant-based foods. However, this supposed advantage is suspected of having considerable disadvantages. Too much heme iron is said to be the cause of the harmful consequences of increased meat consumption. In contrast to heme iron, the body can block the absorption of non-heme iron. An "excess" of non-haeme iron can therefore be counteracted. This is not the case with heme iron. This may not seem dramatic at first, but it can have far-reaching consequences. Too much iron can lead to the formation of carcinogenic free radicals and is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
For example, a study from Switzerland shows that you can get enough iron without animal products. In this study, the vegan group consumed more iron than vegetarians and mixed dieters.
Conclusion: How to provide your body with the best possible iron
Women should consume 15 mg of iron daily, men 10 mg. Anyone who suffers from heavy blood loss during menstruation, is pregnant, breastfeeding or regularly donates blood has an even higher requirement. To ensure an adequate iron supply, it is advisable to take supplements - and not just in these cases.
What should you consider both in your diet and when taking supplements?
- Don't drink coffee or black tea with your meals or when taking your supplements. Cola can also reduce absorption due to its high phosphate content. Return to supplements that combine iron with vitamin C (such as our Nutri-Plusiron tablets).
- It is best to take supplements on an empty stomach or between meals to prevent the absorption of iron being reduced by other food components .
- Eat some fruit for dessert or drink a glass of orange juice with your meals
- Avoid milk and dairy products.