There are several agents that help improve absorption of iron; either by altering the availability or solubility of dietary iron, by improving its chances of uptake in the digestive system or by improving the mechanisms of its general metabolism and movement into the bloodstream.
Ascorbic acid – Ascorbic acid also known as vitamin C is a potent booster of non-haem iron absorption; to the extent that it can potentially increase the bio-availability of plant-based iron by 2 or even 3 times more if taken at the same time as the main iron rich meal. That may be a simple as a fizzy supplement in your mealtime glass of water or via combining vitamin C rich foods on the plate.
Ascorbic acid coats iron molecules and so helps prevent the formation of insoluble /un-absorbable iron compounds in the stomach and intestines. It also helps assist the uptake of dietary iron into the mucosal cells of the duodenum and so into the blood stream more efficiently.
Vitamin C is best known as an immune system booster and as a potent antioxidant that helps prevent/heal free radical damage to our cells. Vitamin C is also involved in the production of several neurotransmitters in particular the happy hormone – serotonin. Vitamin C is therefore a good addition to the diet to generally boost health and take the edge off some of the side effects of anaemia including low mood and physical fatigue.
Some fruits rich in vitamin C may also contain tannins or polyphenols that can bind to iron. eg Cranberries, raspberries and blueberries. So a cranberry sauce may not be helpful but lemon vinaigrette will.
Foods rich in Ascorbic acid include citrus fruits (orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime), kiwifruit, papaya, pineapples, strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes. Many veg are high in C including spinach, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, green beans and summer and winter squash.
Probiotics – Every health store and most pharmacies will have a selection of probiotics – supplements used to boost intestinal health or to recover from a recent course of antibiotics. Probiotics are what’s known as ‘friendly bacteria’ – predominantly Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium – the type that help us digest food and maintain our stomachs role in our immune system. Several studies have found that probiotic supplementation is also beneficial to increase iron and mineral absorption. Several foods are also naturally probiotic.
Probiotic foods include buttermilk, natural yogurt, kefir, bacterially cultured yoghurt-type drinks, bacterially cultured cheese, pickles, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, and other fermented foods
Prebiotics – Prebiotics are what feed probiotics – normally a source of oligosaccharides or other complex starches. prebiotic are the first food humans were designed to taste; galacto-oligosaccharide (GOS) is found in human breast milk and has a role in immune system development as well as setting parameters for future digestive health by establish good colonies of bifido bacteria.
Inulin is a complex starch found in legumes and whole grains, and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) are found in fruits – both support Lactobacilli. Simply put, gut health is essential for the effective absorption of nutrients and so any foods that support gut health are good to have on your radar and on your plate.
Good food sources include Artichokes, asparagus, leeks, onions, garlic, barley, oats, rye, wheat, quinoa, legumes, bananas, berries, honey, chicory root, dandelion root, elecampane root.