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Best Food Sources of Iron: Ferrous Sulfate/Sulphate and Ferrous gluconate in Comparison, Side Effects and More

Updated on August 11, 2012

The number one nutritional disorder is iron deficiency anemia. It is estimated that over one billion people are low in iron. Anemia is experienced by four hundred million woman worldwide. Anemia is most often caused by blood loss due to cancer, hemorrhoids, ulcers or regular aspirin use. Woman are most vulnerable to iron deficiency during childbirth, pregnancy, breast-feeding and menstrual periods.

Those with health conditions that inhibit nutrient absorption or whose diets are low in iron are also at risk. Supplementation is often necessary because it is difficult for woman to meet the recommended daily intake with food alone. Symptoms include fatigue, poor concentration, shortness of breath, ringing in the ears, headaches, dark circles under eyes, heart palpitations, increased infections, restless legs, cold hands and feet, low mood, chest pain while exercising, dizziness and poor concentration.

Getting enough iron in your diet is only one of the necessary steps to overcoming anemia. Without proper absorption and utilization your effort will be in vain. Eating a balanced diet that is high in vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavon, pantothenic acid, folic acid, niacin and vitamin C will ensure iron bioavailability in the body. Intake of vitamin C from food and/or supplementation should be at least 500mg/daily.

The best food sources of iron include black, pinto and kidney beans, molasses, dark leafy vegetables, dried fruits, soybean flour, wheat germ, barley, rye and oatmeal. Vegetable sources include spinach, brussels sprouts, broccoli, sweet potatoes, beet greens, swiss chard and kale. Good nut and seed sources include pecans, almonds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds. Combining a low impact exercise program with a healthy diet will accelerate the healing process.

Animal sources such as liver, eggs salmon and tuna are also good sources but foods that contain oxalic acid such as tomatoes, spinach, chocolate and rhubarb will interfere with the absorption of iron from non-plant sources. To obtain quality sources of plant-based iron avoid those that have been sprayed with pesticides and only it uncooked foods. Cooking destroys much of the iron content.

It is important to avoid several foods and beverages because they interfere with the absorption of iron. Foods that lead to an unhealthy digestive tract will inhibit absorption of iron. A diet high in animal protein, fast, processed and refined foods must be avoided. Foods found to directly inhibit absorption are coffee, dairy products, soda and antacids.

A healthy diet alone is often not sufficient to restore iron reserves to proper levels in the body. There are several supplements available that are effective in treating iron deficiency. Ferrous sulphate and ferrous gluconate can be obtained in tablet form. Although they are effective, they also have some unpleasant side effects such as stomach pain and constipation. Iron chelates and ferrous gluconate, which are available in liquid form, provide better absorption than tablets but can stain teeth.

Mineral water rich in elemental iron provides better absorption and therefore smaller amounts are necessary. It has no taste and doesn’t cause an upset stomach or constipation. Because iron is not easily absorbed, it is best to take supplements between meals and avoid taking them with beverages that will inhibit absorption such as coffee, tea or milk. For the best results seek guidance from a trained healthcare professional for proper dosages and avoidance of overdosing, which will cause the same problems as iron deficiency anemia.

Overdosing on iron supplements can increase the risk of heart attack and disrupt the balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut. It is important to be tested for iron deficiency anemia before supplementing with iron. Anemia can also be caused by vitamin B12 deficiency or reduced thyroid function.


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      Joanna de J 6 years ago

      I have a severe allergy to sulphur - and very senistive to sulphates.

      Are there any supplements for iron that do not use sulphate?

    • ocbill profile image

      ocbill 7 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

      I never knew iron supplements are not absorbed well with a drink.