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Iron deficiency anemia, affecting millions yearly, leads to debilitating fatigue and poses a global health concern. Iron plays pivotal roles in hemoglobin and myoglobin, essential for oxygen transport and storage, as well as cell and hormone function.

Heme vs. Non-heme Iron: Two Dietary Forms

Iron in the diet comes in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme iron, found exclusively in animal products, boasts higher absorption rates, while non-heme iron, prevalent in both plant and animal sources, constitutes a larger portion of dietary iron.

Sources of Heme and Non-Heme Iron

Heme iron sources include meat, poultry, and seafood, whereas non-heme iron is abundant in plant foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and leafy greens. Additionally, fortified products contribute to non-heme iron intake.

Absorption Rates and Factors Influencing Bioavailability

Heme iron, predominantly found in animal products, is absorbed at 15% to 35%, influenced by individual iron levels. Despite lower absorption rates (2% to 20%), non-heme iron significantly contributes to the body’s iron pool. Bioavailability is influenced by various dietary components, with enhancers like ascorbic acid, B12, and meat substantially increasing non-heme iron absorption.

Considerations for Dietary Intake and Health

Individuals at risk for iron deficiency, such as children, pregnant women, and those with high iron loss or low dietary intake, must prioritise adequate iron consumption. While heme iron offers higher absorption rates, non-heme iron from plant sources is crucial, especially with enhancers like vitamin C and meat. Dietary diversity, encompassing both heme and non-heme iron sources, is critical for meeting iron needs and maintaining optimal health.

Navigating Iron Intake for Health

Understanding the distinction between heme and non-heme iron ensures adequate iron levels and prevents deficiency-related complications. Incorporating iron-rich foods into the diet, including animal and plant sources and enhancers, supports healthy blood and overall well-being. Individuals can optimise iron intake and promote optimal health by making informed dietary choices.

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