Thursday, 1 November 2012

Heme versus Non Heme?

Heme versus non heme? So what the hell does it all mean?
Excess iron needs to be treated as the iron gets deposited in the heart, liver and pancreas. Iron Overload can cause cardiac arrhythmias, cirrhosis, liver cancer and diabetes.
Iron is found in food in two forms, heme and non-heme iron.
Heme iron, which makes up 40 percent of the iron in meat, poultry, and fish is much more easily absorbed that Non-heme iron. Venison, lamb and beef have the highest levels of heme iron and should be limited. Chicken and fish have lower levels.
Sixty percent of the iron in beans and spinach, grains and nuts is less well absorbed. For example; Vegan diets only contain non-heme iron. Because of this, iron recommendations are higher for vegetarians (including vegans) than for non-vegetarians.
According to The National Anemia Action Council, you absorb iron better from foods that are cooked. Calcium-based antacids supply calcium that competes with iron for absorption So you should maybe ask your doctor about taking antacids with meals. They neutralize stomach acid that enhances the absorption of iron.

Iron overload is a potentially dangerous condition. Please work alongside me to find a diet that meets your needs and attend follow-up appointments to make sure your iron ferritin levels are low.

Recommendations for Reducing Iron (based only on research over the past 2 years and my own experience)
Note: One thing I have found is that drinking a glass of milk or cup of tea with your main meal helps to limit the amount of iron absorbed into the body.

Vitamin C in Food
Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron. So DO NOT take Vit C supplements, but DO eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, limiting those containing vitamin C. However, if you must have a small amount of red meat in your meal, limit it to minimum of once a week.
Note: Fruits and vegetables that contain vitamin C include citrus fruits, strawberry, kiwi, tomato and bell pepper.

Cod, mackerel, halibut and salmon all have less than 1 mg of iron in a 3.2 oz portion.Whiting and bream also have less than 1 mg of iron. Crab, flounder, haddock, lobster, prawns and tuna all have 1 mg of iron.
Avoid foods high in animal fats. Fats (lipids) when in combination with unbound iron can be responsible for generating free radical activity, which is destructive to cells and can damage DNA.

Fruits and Vegetables
Do not eliminate fruits and vegetables in your diet because they contain vitamin C which enhances iron absorption. Continue to eat these foods because they are good sources of fiber, antioxidants and non-heme iron which is more difficult to absorb. Surprisingly, taking Popeye out of the equation, one cup of cooked spinach is a good source of non-heme iron 6. 6 mg. Raw spinach contains oxalates, derived from oxalic acid, which impairs the absorption of iron.

Plant-based Foods
Non-heme iron is found in plant-based foods and is much more difficult to absorb than heme. High fiber foods, such as nuts, grains, rice and beans bind iron, therefore reducing iron absorption. Be careful with iron-fortified cereals and enriched grains, as these products sometimes meet a full day's recommended amounts for iron.
Foods that Increase Iron Absorption
In addition to vitamin C, alcohol and sugar also increase the absorption of iron. Alcohol can lead to liver damage, which is a risk associated with hemochromatosis, so it should be avoided. It has been said that red wine may be of benefit if consumed in moderation, because it contains tannins, which inhibit iron absorption, which is a real bonus for me as I love a glass of red wine..................Also more about this later too

Foods that Inhibit Iron Absorption
Tannins and oxalates can inhibit the absorption of iron, however, consumption of tannins in large quantity is not recommended if you have liver damage.
The following are some examples of the most common sources of oxalates, arranged by food group. It is important to note that the leaves of a plant almost always contain higher oxalate levels than the roots, stems, and stalks.
  • Fruits
    • blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, currants, kiwifruit, purple grapes, figs, tangerines, plums and pomegranate.
  • Vegetables
    • spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens, collards, okra, parsley and leeks are among the most oxalate-dense vegetables
    • celery, green beans and summer squash would be considered moderately dense in oxalates
  • Nuts and seeds
    • walnuts, almonds, cashews, and peanuts pecan.
  • Legumes
    • soybeans, tofu and other soy products
  • Grains
    • wheat bran, wheat germ, quinoa
  • Other
    • cocoa, chocolate, and black tea
Note: Although always in moderation

Calcium inhibits both heme and non-heme iron. Also, more about that another time.........

Dairy Watch this one though if, like me, you also suffer with high cholesterol!
Most dairy products have low or no iron. Dairy products such as milk block absorption of both heme and non-heme iron, thus reducing the amount of iron that is stored in your body.
Taking calcium can impair the absorption of iron as well.
Eggs have trace amounts of iron, although a protein substance in eggs can reduce the bioavailability of iron by 28 percent in a meal, according to the Iron Disorders.
What you drink also can influence the amount of iron you absorb from foods. Coffee decreases iron absorption by up to 60 percent. Black or pekoe tea and Swedish cocoa may decrease iron absorption by as much as 90 percent. Cola drinks contain phosphorus, which interferes with iron absorption.
However, acidic juices such as lemonade and tomato, orange or cranberry juice -- enhance iron absorption. Replace them with apple juice, pear nectar or just plain old water.

Foods to Definitely Avoid
BEWARE: Raw fish and shellfish contain a bacterium (Vibrio vulnificus) which can be fatal to people with high iron levels. Always thoroughly cook any fish or shellfish you eat.


  1. Fantastic post. You have done a lot of research in a short period of time. As sad as it sounds, I am glad you are one of us. Just remember we will have good days and bad while dealing with HH.

  2. Very informative and helpful guidlines

  3. Thanks for this information - I have just found out I have hemochromatosis and have found some of the information available very confusing!!