Difference between Heme and Non-Heme Iron

May 21, 2017 by Editorial Team

They say that vegans only get non-heme iron while non-vegans get both heme and non-heme iron. Is this true? And how are the two types of iron different from each other, anyway? If you have these same questions, or if you simply want to know what heme and non-heme iron is, you’re in the right place. In this article, we will focus on the difference between heme and non-heme iron.

Descriptions

Heme and Non-Heme Iron
Examples of iron-rich foods

Heme iron is a type of iron that can be found in the blood proteins, myoglobin, and hemoglobin in animals.

Meat (red meat, liver, etc.) contains 40% to 45% heme iron. Poultry (turkey, chicken, especially the leg and thigh parts) and seafood (oysters, clams, crustaceans) are also great sources of heme iron.

Heme iron can be easily absorbed by the body at an average rate of 25%. Its absorption is also not affected by the other types of food you consume which is why many experts say it is the best source of iron for people who are suffering from iron deficiency.

On the other hand, non-heme iron is a type of iron that is found in meat and plants. It has an absorption rate of 16.8%.

Non-heme iron is the type of iron used in pre-made nutrition bars, fortified foods, and iron supplements. It is also found in:

1. Grains and grain products (bread, wheat, oats, rice, etc.)

2. Nuts

3. Vegetables

4. Fruits

5. Seeds

6. Beans

7. Eggs and other dairy products

10. Meat (55% to 60%)

11. Tofu

The absorption of non-heme iron in our body depends on the other types of food we eat. For instance, calcium, tea, and coffee can hinder its absorption, while ascorbic acid and heme iron can improve its absorption.

Heme and Non-Heme Iron

What, then, is the difference between heme and non-heme iron?

Heme iron can only be found in animal tissue (seafood, poultry, meat), whereas non-heme iron can both be found in animals (meat, eggs, and other dairy products), plants (grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, and tofu), iron supplements, nutrition bars, and fortified foods. Meat is a great source of both, containing 40% to 45% heme iron and 55% to 60% non-heme iron.

In addition, heme iron has a faster absorption rate (25% on average) than non-heme iron (16.8% on average). Its absorption is also not affected by the other types of food you consume, unlike non-heme iron.

Comparison Chart

Heme IronNon-Heme Iron
A type of iron that can be found in the blood proteins, myoglobin, and hemoglobin in animalsA type of iron that is found in meat and plants
Found in meat, poultry, and seafoodFound in meat, eggs, dairy products, grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, tofu, iron supplements, nutrition bars, and fortified foods
Has an absorption rate of 25% on average; absorption not affected by other foods consumedHas an absorption rate of 16.8%; absorption is affected by other foods consumed