Non heme iron is one of two different forms of iron. This is a type of iron that comes from plants. It is different from another kind of iron called “heme iron” that comes from animals. Your body absorbs non heme iron and heme iron differently. Iron is an essential nutrient that helps your red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body. Without enough iron, you may experience iron deficiency which is common across the world. As such, it’s important to understand what non heme and heme iron mean, and how your body absorbs each one.
What Does Non Heme Iron Mean?
Non-heme iron is a kind of iron that comes from plant foods. You can find non-heme iron in foods such as:
While vegetables and grains are an essential part of a balanced diet, it is important to understand that your body cannot absorb all the iron in them. This is one of the reasons why it is possible to have an iron deficiency on a healthy diet.
What Is The Difference Between Heme And Non Heme Iron?
They key difference between heme and non heme iron is that non heme iron is available in plant sources while heme iron is available in animal sources. Understanding this difference can help you take a closer look at your diet and check if you are meeting your iron needs. Apart from this difference, non heme and heme iron absorption rates vary as well.
It’s also recommended to take non heme iron foods and supplements with vitamin C for better absorption. Eliminating all sources of caffeine in your diet also helps your body absorb better. You don’t need to do either of these things with heme iron.
Why Is Non Heme Iron Harder To Absorb?
Non heme iron and heme iron are absorbed differently by your body. Heme iron gets into your body through a dedicated doorway called the Heme Carrier Protein 1 (HCP1) receptor. It’s like a key made just for heme iron.
On the other hand non-heme iron uses a different doorway called the Divalent Metal Transporter 1 (DMT1) receptor. This doorway also lets in other metals like cobalt, manganese, and zinc. Non heme iron, therefore, has to compete with other metals for absorption whereas heme iron does not.
The DMT1 receptor also works better when your stomach is a little bit acidic, and that’s where Vitamin C helps. So, if you’re taking non heme iron, it’s a good idea to avoid medicines that make your stomach less acidic, like antacids.
Is Heme Iron Better Than Non Heme?
If you are iron deficient, then the first step you need to take is include more iron-rich foods in your diet. After that, if your iron levels are still low, your doctor may ask you to start taking iron supplements. This is where heme iron can be better than non heme iron.
Not only does heme iron absorb easily, it also causes fewer side effects. Since your body uses the DMT1 receptor to absorb non heme iron and other metals, excess non heme iron remains in your digestive system in greater amounts. This leads to digestive discomfort, cramping, and even constipation.
Heme iron causes fewer side effects as it is absorbed through a dedicated HCP1 receptor.
Heme Sources Of Iron
Iron deficiency can cause lethargy, dizziness, and shortness of breath. When your body doesn’t have enough iron, it can reduce your quality of life. One of the first steps in increasing your iron levels is modifying your diet to include more iron-rich foods. With heme iron foods, you can expect to absorb greater amounts of this nutrient, thereby overcoming your deficiency at a faster pace. Some of sources of heme iron include:
It is always recommended to discuss your dietary and iron needs with your healthcare practitioner. Based on your iron levels and diet, your doctor may give you iron supplements. Always ask what type of iron supplements you need to take if heme iron supplements may be a better choice for your health.
There are two kinds of iron: non heme iron sourced from plants and heme iron sourced from animals. Your body absorbs both of these irons differently through separate receptors in your small intestines. Non heme iron is available in foods like beans and vegetables, but your body doesn’t absorb all of it. Vitamin C helps with non heme iron absorption but caffeine makes it harder. On the other hand, heme iron comes from meat and seafood, and your body absorbs it better through a dedicated receptor. Iron deficiency can cause shortness of breath and dizziness, so it’s important to make sure you are eating enough iron-rich food for your needs. If your doctor tests your blood and finds your iron levels are low, you may need to take iron supplements to raise them back up.
American Red Cross: Iron-Rich Foods for Blood Donation
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Iron – The Nutrition Source
Hemochromatosis Help: Heme Iron vs. Non-Heme Iron – What’s the Difference?
Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), NIH: Iron – Health Professional Fact Sheet
Active Iron: Heme Iron Supplements – Everything You Need to Know