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 according to this VeganHealth article.
I know this post is about vitamin C, 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 help 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.
When I started menstruating 11 months post-partum with my daughter, I noticed a huge decline of energy. A quick visit to my doctor and a blood test showed I was anaemic. She recommended I take iron tablets, so I did for a short time but I found a whole bunch of information on dietician Jack Norris' website which I have shared above, about how to increase your iron without taking iron supplements. Since then, I have taken vitamin C daily to increase the absorption of iron uptake in my body.
I should also mention that taking vitamin C is not only good for iron absorption, but it's an important antioxidant that supports healthy immune function, healthy skin and gums. It also supports wound healing and is beneficial in times of stress. Naturally, my diet is very rich in vitamin C, but it can't hurt to support it with an extra dose of vitamin C, especially while pregnant and breastfeeding!
I currently take two forms of vitamin C, both are 100% natural whole food sources. I switch it up depending on what I'm eating.
One is Acerola berry - it's a powerful little tropical berry that is a natural alternative to synthetic ascorbic acid (which is present in typical vitamin C supplements).
Most Vitamin C supplements available today are artificially produced from corn glucose, via chemical and/or fermentation processes. That's why I buy Lifestream Natural Vitamin C as it doesn't contain any synthetic Chinese ascorbic acid, any artificial ingredients and is GMO-free. Just a pure, natural, vitamin C-rich extract made from certified organic acerola berries. Winning!
Also, to note while we are the topic of 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. To ensure I absorb adequate levels of both iron and calcium I sometimes eat two breakfasts! First thing in the morning I have an iron-rich smoothie with plenty of greens, fruit and one of the above berry powders. After a few hours when it is digested, I'll have a bowl of homemade muesli/granola with my fortified almond milk (which includes the calcium I talk about above). Or I'll just make sure I eat one of my meals packed with iron and one with calcium!