Iron deficiency anemia is a common condition that can affect people of all ages. While eating iron-rich foods like leafy greens, meat and beans can help, it's important to know how to eat them to ensure your body is getting enough iron. Check out these tips on how to maximise your iron absorption and keep your body healthy!

Iron is a mineral that plays a significant role in the production of hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body. Along with this vital function, it also promotes healthy hair, skin, and nails.
Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include fatigue, shortness of breath, and more. Iron deficiency anemia is considered to be the most common type of anemia that affects the vast majority of the population, including 25% of men (aged 15-49 years) and 57% of women (aged 15-49 years). As the name implies, iron deficiency is caused by a shortage of iron in the body, which can have various reasons that we will discuss below.

What is Causing Your Iron Deficiency anemia?

Iron deficiency is usually caused by:

  1. Decreased iron intake:

    In children, picky eating and unhealthy or poor food choices may lead to anemia. In addition, adolescent athletes and adolescents who limit their intake of meat products are also at risk for iron imbalance, specifically low iron. Vegetarian diets provide non-heme iron, which has low bioavailability and might lead to iron deficiency anemia in the long run. Along with this, individuals on fad diets that usually consist of omitting an essential food group that makes them prone to iron deficiency are also at risk. Instances of iron deficiency anemia are especially common in women who are vegetarians or follow restricted diets.
  2. Increased loss of iron from the body:

    Young women are at particular risk for the development of iron deficiency due to menstrual blood loss. There are also other health conditions that can lead to iron deficiency anemia. Blood loss from a hernia, a peptic ulcer, a colon polyp, or colorectal cancer can cause anemia. An intestinal disorder like celiac disease may also affect iron absorption by your intestines. Additionally, if you’ve had a bypass or removal of the small intestine, the risk of iron deficiency anemia may increase.
  3. Increase in iron requirements of the body:

    Iron requirements increase during active growth in childhood, from 6 months to 3 years. Adolescents are also vulnerable to iron deficiency anemia (IDA) due to increased iron needs during a period of expanding blood volume and muscle mass.

In most cases, dietary changes prove to be very effective in the management of iron deficiency anemia. But before you just start gobbling down plates of spinach, hold on. It is very important to eat smart so that the iron-rich foods that you eat are effectively absorbed. Here is how you can increase iron absorption in your body.

Eat Smart to Increase Iron Absorption:

What, how, and when you eat iron-rich food can affect the rate of iron absorption in the body. So, without further ado, let's explore a few ways for enhancing iron absorption in your body:

  1. Eat animal protein:

    The iron present in animal foods is one of the best sources of iron, i.e., heme iron which is easily absorbed by the body. The form of iron present in plant sources like spinach, legumes etc. is non-heme iron which is not as readily absorbable as heme iron. Thus, if you are a non vegetarian, include red meat, poultry, and seafood in your diet in controlled portions to meet iron requirements. This simple spinach tuna pancake recipe can be an easy option that you can try out to meet your iron requirement.
  2. Couple iron-rich foods with Vitamin C-rich foods:

    Plant-based sources of iron present in greens, legumes, nuts, etc are not easily absorbable. By adding vitamin C to your iron-rich diet, you enhance the iron absorption in your body. So you can add orange, kiwi, bell peppers or very simply just squeeze some lime to your greens salad to enhance iron absorption.
  3. Cook in cast iron vessels:

    By using cast iron vessels for cooking, you end up transferring some amount of iron into the foods, which may increase iron absorption. Acidic foods like tomatoes especially help release iron from vessels and make it more available. One more very interesting fact is that cooking in a cast iron pot increases the iron content of foods by nearly 16 per cent. Amazing, right? We have been using iron vessels for centuries now we just need to start getting back to it.
  4. Limit coffee and tea:

    The tannins present in coffee and tea interfere with the rate of iron absorption. Even if you are having tea or coffee, have it a few hours before or after an iron-rich meal. Moreover, milk and milk substitutes are very poor sources of iron. Not only that, but calcium in the milk also interferes with iron absorption in the body. So it's always recommended that your iron supplements should not be taken along with calcium supplements.
  5. Have gaps between iron-rich meals:

    Your body cannot absorb large doses of iron all at once, so it's better to provide your body with smaller doses of iron by having small and frequent meals to increase iron absorption.

Iron is commonly found in animal sources, but there are also some great plant-based sources of iron. Some examples of these plant-based sources include chickpeas, onion stalks, amaranth, mustard leaves, fenugreek, mint, colocasia leaves, lentils, black chickpeas, soya bean, sesame seeds, red gram dal, black gram dal, watermelon, pumpkin, and green plantain.

To maximize the absorption of iron from these plant-based sources, it is recommended to consume foods that are rich in vitamin C as well. Such foods include drumstick leaves, coriander leaves, amla, orange, and lime.

Even iron-rich animal sources can also not be consumed in excessive amounts due to the risk of increasing cholesterol levels.

It is important to remember that if your healthcare provider puts you on iron supplements, you must not take them along with calcium supplements, as they may interfere with each other’s absorption. For personalised health


Taking the above mentioned steps to address the underlying cause of iron deficiency anemia and incorporating iron-rich foods into your diet can help improve your iron levels. By following the simple dietary changes and guidelines outlined, such as consuming foods high in vitamin C to aid in iron absorption and limiting foods that inhibit absorption, you can make a significant impact on your overall health. 
There are plenty of tasty and healthy recipes to try, like chana chaat or sarson ka saag, that can help you meet your iron requirements. Just be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before making any big changes to your diet. By taking these steps, you can effectively combat iron deficiency anemia and promote optimal health and well-being.