Boost Your Iron During Pregnancy

Many women receive a diagnosis of iron-deficiency anemia during pregnancy. The cause? Often unknown Perhaps due to dietary intake, or perhaps genetic, environmental, or disease factors.

Regardless of the cause, there are many ways you can support iron intake during pregnancy before resorting to high-dose iron supplements.

High-dose iron supplements may lead to constipation in some women. Because of this, it’s often advised to try boosting iron via dietary changes and the following tips provided in this post.

If you attempt to boost your iron through diet and remain deficient in this mineral, it’s very important that you discuss with your healthcare provider the best option to increase iron.

Young pregnant woman snacking on yogurt and granola

What is Iron?

Heme Iron is a part of the protein’s myoglobin and hemoglobin, which are important components for our blood. Heme iron is found in animal foods such as meat, poultry and fish. Heme iron is 2-3x more bioavailable than nonheme iron.

Non-heme Iron is the form of iron that is used to enrich bread and fortify cereals and is also found in plant sources.

What are Iron Needs During Pregnancy?

Women need 18 milligrams daily to cover the iron lost during menstruation.

During pregnancy, this increases to 27 milligrams per day to support the growing fetus. This dramatic increase might explain the prevalence of iron deficiency during pregnancy.

What are the Factors That Inhibit Iron Absorption?

  • The polyphenols in Tea and coffee can reduce the absorption of iron by 70%
  • Milk products, which contain calcium, and high-fiber foods, which contain phytates, should not be taken with iron supplements. Don’t allow this to discourage you from consuming fiber and calcium, just be aware of the pairing.
  • Simply put, if you are attempting to increase your iron intake, it is advised to consume iron-rich foods such as meat, fish, and poultry separate from milk products, high-fiber foods, coffee, and tea. You should not avoid polyphenol-, calcium-, and phytate-containing foods, rather just eat them a few hours before or after you consume your iron supplement or consume your iron-containing foods.
  • In addition, excess use of antacids (Tums, Pepto-Bismol, Alka-seltzer) may inhibit iron absorption
  • Lastly, excess supplemental mineral intake such as calcium, zinc, and magnesium may reduce the bioavailability of iron in the body.

What are Factors that Enhance Iron Absorption?

  • Consuming more food sources containing heme iron or consuming more heme iron with non-heme iron is one way to enhance overall iron absorption during pregnancy.
    • This is called the MFP (meat, fish, poultry) factor
  • Consuming Vitamin C with non-heme & heme iron sources. In fact, research shows that consuming vitamin C (25-1000 mg of ascorbic acid) with iron-containing food sources can increase iron absorption from 0.8% to 7.1%.1
    • ex: orange slices or orange juice (vitamin C) & eggs (heme iron)
    • ex: tomatoes (vitamin C) & ground beef (heme iron)
  • Cooking foods in a cast iron skillet as foods absorb the iron from the cookware

Other Factors That May Increase Iron Absorption During Pregnancy

Women taking supplements containing more than 30mg of iron should also take 15 mg of zinc and 2mg of copper to prevent deficiency of these minerals.

Zinc is needed in protein metabolism and DNA synthesis (for the fetus) and Copper is needed in the production of energy, for the transport of iron in the body, and connective tissue synthesis.

Sample Menu to Increase Iron Absorption During Pregnancy:

iron-rich cast iron skillet chicken and potatoes meal good for pregnancy
  • 1 cup of steel cut oatmeal (~14mg non-heme Iron) topped with 1 cup of fresh strawberries (the vitamin C can help enhance iron absorption from oatmeal)
  • 2 cups Raisin Bran (fortified with 9 mg non-heme iron + raisins 1.4 mg of non-heme iron) with a glass of orange juice (vitamin C)
  • 2 scrambled eggs (heme iron) with avocado slices and grapefruit (vitamin C)
  • Mixed green salad with quinoa (non-heme iron and good source of protein), and tomatoes (vitamin C).
  • 3 oz light tuna, canned (1.2 mg heme iron), on top of whole wheat bread with melted cheddar cheese.
  • 1 small baked potato with skin (2mg non-heme iron &; vitamin C) stuffed with 3oz skinless chicken breast (0.9mg heme iron) and 2 cups of steamed broccoli (vitamin C) topped with low-fat cheese
  • Bake 3 oz skinless chicken breast with sautéed red bell peppers (vitamin C) together in a cast iron skillet (to enhance the iron content in chicken)
  • 4 oz ground turkey (heme iron), 1/d cup tomato sauce (vitamin C), penne pasta, and graded Parmesean cheese. Season to taste.
  • Kiwi slices (vitamin C) with peanut butter on whole wheat bread (non-heme iron)
  • 1 cup of raisins: 1.4 mg (non-heme iron)


1.) PubMed

Written by Sheridan Glaske, MS, RDN, LD

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