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Role of Vitamin C for Preventing Iron Deficiency

Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is an essential vitamin that is found in foods and not readily available in the body. Iron is an essential nutrient that aids your body in performing basic functions. 

Vitamin C plays a role in collagen formation, repairing tissues, and the enzymatic production of some neurotransmitters. It also plays an essential role in immune function. 

Iron is found in red blood cells, and supports a protein called hemoglobin found in red blood cells which transports oxygen throughout the body via the bloodstream. Hemoglobin also eliminates waste materials such as carbon dioxide (CO2) by transporting it to the lungs to be excreted out of your body through respiration.

Iron deficiency is also known as anemia, and develops when the iron stores in the body are so low that it cannot produce sufficient hemoglobin to carry oxygen effectively throughout the body. Symptoms of iron deficiency include headaches, pale skin and nails, fatigue, weakness, and difficulty maintaining your body temperature. 

Iron is found in foods like meat, dark green leafy vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals, and beans. Iron’s bioavailability increases when it is eaten together with foods containing vitamin C, making combining foods containing iron with foods containing vitamin C a great way to increase your iron stores. 90 milligrams (mg) for men and 75 mg for women is the daily recommended intake of vitamin C for adults.

Vitamin C and Iron Metabolism

There are two forms of iron found in food: heme and non-heme iron. 

Animal-based foods like poultry and meat provide your body with both the heme and non-heme forms of iron, and are more easily absorbed by your body.

In addition, non-heme iron is found more in plant-based foods such as spinach, rice, beans, and some fortified breakfast cereals. 

Non-heme iron typically makes up more than 90% of the iron you consume through your diet, yet is not readily absorbed by the body. However, vitamin C can help improve the absorption of non-heme iron from the foods you eat by converting the non-heme iron into a more absorbable form.

Vitamin C Increases Iron Bioavailability

When it comes to bioavailability, the iron bioavailability of non-heme iron is lower than that of heme iron, meaning it is easier to absorb heme iron than non-heme iron. Vitamin C has been proven to improve iron absorption by capturing non-heme iron from foods and storing it in a form that is more easily absorbed by the body.

Because of this you can increase the bioavailability of dietary iron by combining foods rich in vitamin C with iron-rich foods in your meals. For instance, you can try having a salad that combines together peppers and tomatoes (both rich in vitamin C) with steak or lentils (both rich in iron), or sip a glass of pure orange juice (rich in vitamin C) when you have a bowl of iron-fortified cereal for breakfast .

Having drinks that contain vitamin C like orange, tomato, or grapefruit juice also increases the amount of non-heme iron that your body can absorb. Research has shown that just 100 mg of vitamin C can enhance the absorption of iron by 67%. 

Because of this, vitamin C may help lower the risk of anemia in people who are prone to iron deficiency. Iron deficiency is most common among women, especially women of reproductive age or pregnant women, and vegetarians. If you fit one of these groups, then increasing your iron levels by having more vitamin C-rich foods is a great strategy for ensuring that your body has adequate iron levels.

Menu Ideas for Vitamin C and Iron


Dietary sources of iron include eggs, red meat, poultry, nuts, fish, green leafy vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals, legumes, and fortified whole grains. Your body absorbs plant-based sources of iron better when you eat them with a good source of vitamin C, like citrus fruits, broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, spinach, cauliflower, tomatoes, and strawberries.

Here are some daily menu ideas that are rich in vitamin C and iron, making them high in iron bioavailability:

For Breakfast

  • Fortified breakfast cereal with milk with a cup of 100% orange juice
  • Oatmeal with dried nuts and fruits
  • Red pepper omelet, whole wheat toast with cheese, and a glass of milk
  • A glass of milk with wholemeal pancakes topped with fresh fruit
  • Yogurt, milk, and blueberry smoothie coupled with whole-grain toast with peanut butter.
  • A cup of orange juice with a mushroom, cheese and onion omelet, and whole-wheat toast with cheese

For Lunch

  • Tuna sandwich on whole-grain bread with tomato and lettuce, an apple, and carrot sticks
  • Chicken salad with grapes, lettuce, and whole wheat crackers
  • Turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread with lettuce and avocado, a pear, and carrot sticks
  • Raw veggies, dark leafy greens, and grilled chicken with a cup of black bean soup
  • Grilled chicken wrap with lettuce, cucumber, and tomato; a cup of yogurt; and a clementine
  • Grilled cheese sandwich on whole-grain bread with tomato soup, an orange, and carrot sticks
  • Chicken caesar salad with whole wheat croutons, and a peach.

For Dinner

  • Beef goulash, whole wheat rolls, and a cup of yogurt
  • Pork chops, mashed potatoes, steamed corn, and a slice of wheat bread
  • Spaghetti with beef and vegetables, salad, and garlic bread
  • Quinoa, salmon, steamed green beans, and a cup of berries
  • Beef burger on a whole wheat bun, baked sweet potato fries, and a mixed green salad.
  • Grilled chicken breast, brown rice, steamed broccoli, and a slice of watermelon

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