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Dairy Products And Iron Absorption

There are two types of iron Ė heme (found in animal products) and non-heme (found in plant sources). Heme iron is far easier to absorb from food and is found abundantly in red meat. Non-heme iron on the other hand is much harder to absorb and in addition is found in much smaller quantities in plant-based products. This is why vegetarians have difficulty maintain adequate iron stores and why they are prone to anemia. Iron-deficient anemia is a major cause of chronic tiredness.

Foods that contain heme-iron

1. Red meat (beef, lamb, pork, offal) is rich in iron that is easily absorbed. The darker the meat, the more iron it contains.

2. Poultry contains some iron, and leg meat contains more iron than breast meat.

3. Fish contains some iron too, especially oily fish and molluscs (mussels, etc.)

Foods that contain non-heme sources

1. Green leafy vegetables, such as watercress, spinach and kale, contain some iron

2. Whole grains, especially barley and oats

3. Peas and beans

4. Seeds and nuts, especially sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pistachios, pecans and almonds

5. Egg yolks (not vegan)

6. Black strap molasses

Increasing iron absorption from food

1. Vitamin C helps the body absorb non-heme iron on plant foods. Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables and these should be eaten at the same time as the foods that contain iron. Alternatively, vitamin C supplements can be taken with meals.

2. Reduce your intake of dairy products as this will inhibit the absorption of iron from foods. This is particularly the case in women. Increase your calcium intake with other non-dairy foods such as nuts, seeds, peas, beans and green leafy vegetables.

3. Caffeine inhibits iron absorption from food. Donít drink tea, coffee or cola drinks during meals. Keep them at least 2 hours away from meals.

Alison Cassar is a naturopathic practitioner and nutritionist and runs a busy clinic in Sydney, Australia. Her particular interest is chronic tiredness as itís a very common presenting symptom in clinic. Her website and e-book explores the many causes of tiredness as well as solutions and prevention.