Healthy Living

What Foods Have Heme Iron?

August 9, 2021

You may have heard about the benefits of incorporating iron into your diet, but did you know that there are different types? In today’s blog, we’re going to be talking about what exactly heme iron is, how heme iron differs from non-heme iron, and what foods serve as an excellent source of this essential mineral.

What is Heme Iron?

Heme iron is a naturally occurring mineral in animal and seafood, including in meat, poultry, seafood, and fish. Heme iron is easily absorbed by the body, making it a critical vehicle for obtaining a sufficient amount of iron for most people. The only instances in which individuals should not seek the heme iron polypeptide is if they are allergic to meat products or if they have an iron overload disorder — such as hemochromatosis or hemosiderosis.

Heme Iron vs Non-heme Iron

While heme iron is found exclusively in meats and seafood, non-heme iron is found in plant foods. These plant foods include whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and leafy greens. Non-heme iron is also found in animal foods — as animals eat plants with non-heme iron — and fortified foods that have synthetic nutrients, such as non-heme iron, added to them.

>The other major difference between heme iron and non-heme iron is the absorption rate. As previously mentioned, heme iron is more readily absorbed into the body than non-heme iron. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that non-heme iron often contains phytates that bind and carry the iron through the digestive tract, unabsorbed. The second is that the very polyphenols that give plant foods some of their great benefits also hinder iron absorption. For these reasons and more, it’s generally recommended that vegetarians consume at least 2x the iron of non-vegetarians to make up for the decreased absorption from non-heme sources.

graph showing the difference between heme and non-heme iron

Healthy Hint: You can take steps to increase the bioavailability of non-heme iron, allowing your body to absorb more of it.

What foods are a good source of heme iron?

foods rich with heme iron chart

We already know that meat and seafood are the best sources of heme iron, but here are some specific foods with the highest iron content::

Oysters, clams, mollusks, and mussels

Splurge on a yummy seafood appetizer as a surefire way to boost your heme iron intake, and get lots of other vital nutrients in the process. Clams and oysters, in particular, have very high heme iron content levels at 23.8 mg/3 oz serving and 7.8 mg/3 oz serving, respectively.

Beef and poultry

Lucky for you, some of the most basic and accessible meats contain some of the highest levels of heme iron! Not to mention, here at Snap Kitchen, we offer some delicious meals with these very ingredients! Our top picks would be the Ranch Burger, romesco chicken, or the peppercorn steak!

Healthy Hint: If you have specific dietary requirements you need to cook around, check out this blog post.

Liver and other organ meats

Okay, okay, we know that liver and organ meats may not sound the most appetizing, but when prepared right, and when you take into consideration the astounding amount of heme iron (and other nutrients!) they contain, incorporating these meats into your diet may not be such a bad idea.

Beef liver has a heme iron content of 5.8 mg/3 oz serving, while chicken liver has a whopping 8 mg/3 oz serving!

Canned sardines

Another protein that many may not think of, but will make every list of foods with the highest heme iron and overall nutrition content, is canned sardines.

Whether you grill or fry them, add them to a salad or pizza, or pair them with a healthy fat like avocado, sardines are a great way to incorporate heme iron into your diet.

Canned tuna and other fish

An easy-peasy and cost-effective way to access a good source of heme iron is canned tuna. Make a sandwich or add it to a salad, and you’re good to go!

For dinners and more well-rounded meals, fish like salmon, cod, and halibut also serve as excellent sources of heme iron. Check out our currently available seafood dishes here.

Experiencing low iron, or iron deficiency symptoms is not fun, and is currently the number one health problem in the world, affecting up to two billion people! Don’t be one of those two billion and start taking steps to increase your heme iron intake today by incorporating some of these foods into your daily diet! What heme iron-packed food are you going to try first?

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