Iron deficiency is the most common deficiency in the world. It's caused by inadequate dietary intake of iron, poor adoration or loss of iron due to bleeding. In fact, vegans' iron intakes are as high or higher than non-vegetarians.
I know this post is about iron, but I want to explain in a few points why vitamin C is so crucial for iron absorption, and why I take vitamin C.
Iron is prevalent in a wide variety of plant foods, especially beans and greens. But, phytates, found in legumes and grains, can inhibit the absorption of plant iron. The best way to increase non-heme iron absorption is by taking vitamin C as it is a strong enhancer of plant iron and can overcome the inhibitors in plant foods. Eating foods high in vitamin C at meals or taking a vitamin C supplement significantly increases iron absorption. Foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits, strawberries, green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards, swiss chard, brussel sprouts), bell peppers (yellow, red, and green), and cauliflower. Another way to help reduce phytates is by soaking your beans and grains before you cook them.
In one study, vegetarian children with anaemia and low vitamin C intakes in India were given 100 mg of vitamin C at both lunch and dinner for 60 days. They saw a drastic improvement in their anaemia, with most making a full recovery.
In some women, iron supplementation does not lead to an increase in iron stores. In one study of such women, adding the amino acid L-lysine (1.5 - 2 g/day for 6 months) to iron supplementation did increase iron stores.
Taking gluten out of the diet may also help increase iron absorption.
Here are some important things to know about iron:
Do not drink coffee, or black, green or specific herbal teas with meals; the polyphenols, which include tannic acid inhibit iron absorption.
Avoid taking calcium supplements with iron-rich foods. Calcium competes with iron for absorption, as it is a bigger molecule, calcium will always win.
If you need more iron in your diet I recommend taking on board everything I have said above (this information has come from Dietician Jack Norris). If you have low levels of iron and are anemic do all I said above plus take an iron supplement to really help boost your iron. Pregnancy as well as not absorbing iron into your blood stream for long periods of time can deplete your stores and it's important to bring those levels back up to normal with a supplement. Once you have done so, maintain those levels by eating iron and vitamin C rich foods.
I used Good States ionic iron to help bring my stores back up to a normal during the last month of pregnancy. It's very gentle on your stomach, easy to take, it doesn't taste bad and it also has added fulvic acid to aid absorption.