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Should I take Vitamin C and Iron together?

A common question among health enthusiasts is, "Should I take Vitamin C and Iron together?" This article aims to clear up the confusion surrounding this topic. Firstly, we'll explore the significant role of iron in our bodies, from forming haemoglobin to boosting energy production and immune health.

Crucially, we’ll then examine how Vitamin C interacts with the two main types of dietary iron - heme and non-heme - and the implications for your diet and health.

This blog aims to clarify the widespread misconception regarding the role of Vitamin C in the absorption of animal-based heme iron—a topic often confused and overstated due to its established connection with the absorption of plant-based (non-heme) iron.

Iron in the Body: A Key to Health

Iron is fundamental to our well-being, playing several vital roles. It's crucial in creating haemoglobin, which carries oxygen in our blood. But that's just the start; iron also helps in energy generation, supports a robust immune system, and is essential for cognitive health.

There are two main types of dietary iron – heme and non-heme. Heme iron, from animal sources, is absorbed by our bodies more efficiently, generally at a rate of 15% to 40%. On the other hand, plant-based non-heme iron has an absorption rate of about 1% to 9%. Understanding this distinction is key to optimising our iron intake.

Non-Heme Iron: Plant-Based, Less Absorbable

Non-heme iron, mainly found in plants, is a key element of vegetarian and vegan diets. Though essential, it’s not as easily absorbed as heme iron from animal sources as it is often competing with compounds (AKA anti-nutrients) that inhibit iron absorption such as Oxalates, Phytates, Lectins, & Polyphenols to name a few. 

Anti-nutrients are not to be seen as inherently ‘bad’, however plants do require proper preparation techniques to help reduce Anti-nutrients and enhance iron absorption. This can be a notable consideration for plant-based dieters seeking to maintain optimal iron levels.

The following plant sources of non-heme iron each require a degree of preparation to reduce anti-nutrients and unlock the iron:


Beans, lentils, and chickpeas

Leafy Greens

Spinach and kale 

Nuts and Seeds

Almonds and pumpkin seeds 

Whole Grains

Quinoa. Fortified cereals are often classed as a plant-based source of iron, however the iron present in any fortified foods is a synthetic form of iron, not a natural one. 

Absorbing non-heme iron from plants is always going to be more challenging given the presence of anti-nutrients which inhibit iron. Other than reducing anti-nutrients with proper plant preparation techniques, there are further ways of enhancing the absorption of non-heme iron through dietary combinations, particularly with Vitamin C-rich foods that help further neutralise anti-nutrients such as phytates.

Introducing Vitamin C: Food Sources and Benefits for Overall Health

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, isn't just crucial for a strong immune system; it also plays a key role in plant-based non-heme iron absorption and overall health. This essential nutrient is well-known for its antioxidant properties and its vital role in collagen synthesis, which is important for maintaining healthy skin, blood vessels, and bones.

You can find Vitamin C in a variety of foods:

Citrus Fruits

Oranges, lemons, and grapefruits are famous for their rich Vitamin C content.


Strawberries and blueberries provide a delightful way to boost your Vitamin C intake.


Bell peppers and broccoli are not only nutrient-rich but are also excellent sources of Vitamin C.

A crucial role of Vitamin C is its ability to enhance the absorption of non-heme iron, the type found in plant-based foods, making it particularly important for those on vegetarian or vegan diets.

Vitamin C's Role in Enhancing Non-Heme Iron Absorption

Studies show  that vitamin C is a  vital player in increasing the absorption of non-heme iron.  This is particularly important for  individuals who rely primarily on plant-based sources for their iron needs . Let’s dive into how Vitamin C makes a difference:

Chemical Conversion

Vitamin C assists in converting non-heme iron, which is typically in a less absorbable ferric state, into a more soluble ferrous state. This conversion significantly boosts the amount of iron that the body can absorb from plant-based foods.

Counteracting Inhibitors

As touched on above, many plant foods contain compounds known as anti-nutrients that can hinder iron absorption. Vitamin C helps to negate these inhibitors, enhancing the body's ability to take in non-heme iron*.

Integrating Vitamin C-rich foods into meals that contain plant-based iron sources is a strategic way to get the most out of poorly absorbed non-heme iron. Whether it's adding a splash of lemon juice to your sauteed spinach or pairing a vitamin C-rich fruit with your soaked & sprouted legume dish, these combinations can improve iron absorption from plant-based foods.

*It is still important to note that Vitamin C alone won’t completely negate phytates and to explore proper preparation techniques of plant foods to further reduce inhibitors & enhance iron absorption.

Busting Misconceptions: Vitamin C's Limited Role in Heme Iron Absorption

Contrary to some claims and underscored by  Michigan State University , Vitamin C's role in enhancing heme iron absorption is minimal. Heme iron, primarily found in animal products, is already highly bioavailable, meaning our bodies absorb it effectively without the need for Vitamin C.

Inherent Bioavailability of Heme Iron

Heme iron, which is abundant in meats and seafood, is readily absorbed by the body. This efficiency renders the impact of Vitamin C on its absorption relatively insignificant.

Focused Benefits of Vitamin C

While Vitamin C is not essential for heme iron absorption, it remains an important nutrient for overall health. Its benefits in immune support, collagen production, and as an antioxidant are undiminished and contribute to a well-rounded diet.

It’s important to recognise that while Vitamin C aids in absorbing non-heme iron from plant sources, its necessity for heme iron absorption from animal sources is a misconception. 

Understanding this difference helps in making informed dietary choices for optimal iron intake.

Understanding Vitamin C and Iron for Healthier Choices

The role of Vitamin C in enhancing iron absorption from plant-based foods is important, especially for those following a plant-rich diet. Pairing plant-based iron sources with Vitamin C-rich foods maximises the usually poor absorption rates, which can improve overall iron intake.

If you take iron intake seriously it is best to focus on animal-based heme iron, its has the well known advantage of being much more bioavailable, ready for the body to easily absorb and use efficiently. As we discussed in this blog Vitamin C has a very limited impact on heme iron absorption, so it is not necessary to consume Vitamin C at the same time as heme iron.

We do recommend integrating Vitamin C-rich foods such as oranges or citrus fruits to improve Vitamin C intake and overall health. 

Choosing the Right Iron Supplement: Natural vs. Synthetic

Unlike synthetic options like ferrous sulphate and ferrous gluconate, which can often lead to gastrointestinal issues and disrupt the body's natural iron absorption processes, our Organic Spleen & Liver Capsules and Beef Organs Powder are in perfect harmony with your body. They go beyond providing bioavailable heme iron; they are rich in crucial nutrients like Vitamin B12, Vitamin A, copper and much more.

By choosing our natural supplements, you’re ensuring you get a full spectrum of essential nutrients that work together for your overall wellbeing.

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