Iron absorption

I am 25 weeks pregnant. My doctor told me to take iron supplements twice per day. I read that iron pills should be taken with vitamin C and that dairy products should be avoided due to interference with the iron absorption. Is this true?

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Taking an iron supplement during pregnancy is a wise idea. Because your blood volume expands by 50 percent when you are pregnant, you need extra iron to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body, as well as to your developing baby. Getting all the iron you need from food can be difficult, particularly because it isn't always absorbed well.

An iron supplement is best absorbed on an empty stomach, but for some, it causes stomach upset. If this is the case, then take it with food, or half an hour after a meal.

There are certain foods that will inhibit iron absorption so you should avoid taking the supplement with any of them, even though it usually takes large amounts of the offending food to interfere. Some of the basic foods that will do this are: oxalic acid found in spinach and phosphates found primarily in milk, dairy products and egg whites. Also many sodas, phytates in beans and tannins in tea and coffee can interfere with iron absorption.

Vitamin C will enhance the absorption of iron many fold. However, for it to do so, it must be taken simultaneously with the iron. Both vitamin C and iron must be present together in the intestine for the positive effect to occur. That is why it is a good idea to drink orange juice with your iron fortified cereal in the morning or to eat broccoli with your meat.

For maximum absorption of your iron supplement, the ideal way to take it is on an empty stomach, swallowed down with a glass of vitamin C-rich juice, such as orange juice -- or a vitamin C-enriched juice of any variety.

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