Is Iron From Plants or Meat Better?

best foods for iron

Who remembers Popeye, the wisecracking cartoon sailor who possessed superhuman strength after ingesting an always-handy can of spinach? While Spinach may not provide bulging muscles or super-strength it does provide iron which is an important nutrient for stable energy. A deficiency in this precious mineral can lead to weakness, tiredness and fatigue but we may not need to carry cans of spinach around like Popeye.

In this article we’ll look at the role iron has to play in the body, and examine the different types of iron.

Why is iron important?

Iron is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in the transport of oxygen around the body. It binds to something called hemoglobin (a special protein) and helps it carry red blood cells from your lungs to other tissues in your body. A deficiency in iron is called anaemia which effects about 20% of women, 50% of pregnant women and up to 5% of men. The easiest solution to avoid anaemia is to consume more foods high in iron.

How much iron do we need?

The recommended daily intake (RDI) may vary based on a person’s gender and life stage but is typically:

  • Men over 19 years - 8 milligrams
  • Women between 19 and 50 years - 18 milligrams
  • Women over 51 years- 8milligrams
  • Pregnant women - 27 milligrams
  • Women who are exclusively breastfeeding - 10 milligrams

The different types of iron

There are two forms of iron, heme iron and nonheme iron. The term 'heme' is derived from a Greek word that loosely translates to 'blood.' This type of iron comes from animal protein, such as poultry, fish, and beef. Nonheme iron is found in plant foods including legumes, leafy greens, and nuts.

Which type of iron is better?

Your body can absorb heme iron (from animal protein) more readily and is reported to be up to 18% more bioavailable. Nonheme iron, the iron source in vegetarian diets, has a bioavailability of 5–12%. The reason for this is that many plant foods that contain iron also contain phytic acid and oxalates which significantly inhibit the body's ability to absorb iron.

Iron-rich foods

Good sources of heme iron offering around 3.5mg per serve include:

  • Beef or chicken liver
  • Mussels
  • Oysters

While sources of nonheme iron offering around 3.5mg per serve include:

  • Tofu & Soybeans
  • Lentils
  • Beans (red, white, kidney etc)

The problem with iron supplements

Supplemental iron comes in many forms. Getting the most absorbable form is the key to preventing gastrointestinal distress and constipation. Ferrous sulphate & ferrous fumarate are the most common form of iron supplements. They're also the least absorbable forms which is why iron supplementation has a reputation for slowing down the bowels. This is the main reason why obtaining iron from food sources are preferable.

Organ meats and iron

As outlined above organ meats are a great source of iron. Beef liver in particular offers a wide range of iron, B-vitamins and is especially high in vitamin A. It's important to note that being deficient in vitamin A may interfere with your ability to efficiently absorb iron which may increase your iron needs.

What if you don't like eating beef organs?

beef liver for iron

As you can see from the information above, adding organ meats into your diet makes a lot of nutritional sense if you are feeling fatigued. If you’re still not comfortable with the idea of buying and preparing organ meats you're not alone. Fortunately there is an easy solution...

Our beef liver and beef organ supplements are contained in easy-to-take flavourless capsules. They are non-defatted to preserve the fat-soluble nutrient content (including vitamin A) and are freeze-dried, which also helps preserve the full range of nutrients. They are 100% hormone, antibiotic and GMO-free and are 100% grass-fed and organic from the pristine Tasmanian pastures.