Steak on a plate

About Heme Iron

In general, heme iron is found in significant quantities only in animals. A distinguishing feature of this type of iron is that it is absorbed into the body regardless of any external factors. No antinutrients or chemicals can prevent the absorption of heme iron, so it is readily bioavailable.

This type of iron must be hydrolyzed from any protein it is attached to. Then, it can be absorbed easily into the body’s systems. Typically, the human body can absorb about 20 to 25 percent of heme iron from an animal-based food like a steak. Absorption happens most effectively in the duodenum or the small intestine.

Food Sources Of Heme Iron

Heme iron is most commonly found in the muscles of animals. Some of the best sources of heme iron are red meat, poultry like chicken or turkey and various seafood products.

Animal organs are also great sources of heme iron. Just a small amount of chicken liver can provide you with over half of your daily dose of iron. Other top sources include beef liver, oysters and ground beef.

Some people choose not to eat meat as part of their diets. Vegetarians and vegans might therefore be worried about a lack of heme iron in their diets. Fortunately, iron can still be found in non-heme form in various plant-based foods. If you want to get a bit of extra iron, start eating more cereals, tofu, mushrooms and beans. People who don’t eat red meat can also include plenty of seafood like mussels and clams in their diets.

Heme Iron is Easily Absorbed by the Body

Heme iron is very important for the human body. Since it is absorbed at a steady rate, regardless of any external factors, it’s much easier for us to eat animal products and be sure of getting our recommended iron intake each day.

Studies have shown that the average person's iron stores are mostly made up of heme iron. Therefore, vegetarians and others who don't eat meat on a regular basis are at a higher risk of becoming iron deficient.

Heme iron is more readily bioavailable than non-heme iron, making it the more prominent form of the two within the average human body. Non-heme iron can take on the form “Fe(III)” which the body simply cannot absorb. Heme iron takes on the smaller and more manageable form of “Fe(II)” which can be easily absorbed in the intestines. In addition, the presence of certain chemicals and compounds like phytates or tannins in the body can also prevent the absorption of non-heme iron.