Heme Iron Supplements vs Non-Heme

If you're thinking about taking an iron supplement, you'll likely encounter two main types: heme and non-heme iron. Simply put, heme iron comes from animal sources and is easier for your body to use, while non-heme iron comes from plants and isn't absorbed as easily.

In this article, we'll dive into the details, looking at the science behind how each type works in your body. We'll also explain a third option which may be the best of all...

Heme Iron vs Non-heme iron Which is Better

Haem vs Non-Haem Iron

Haem iron is an iron type found in animal products that is bound to proteins like hemoglobin and myoglobin, while non-haem iron is found in plant-based foods and is not bound to proteins.

Haem iron's protein association allows for direct uptake into the bloodstream, leading to a higher absorption efficiency by the body. It is less influenced by other dietary components, making it a reliable source of iron, particularly significant for individuals with higher iron requirements or those at risk of deficiency.

Non-haem iron's absorption, conversely, is more dependent on the presence of other dietary substances. Factors such as vitamin C can enhance its uptake, whereas elements like phytates and polyphenols in certain plant foods can hinder it. Consequently, those who exclude animal products from their diet must carefully manage their intake of enhancing and inhibiting factors to maintain sufficient iron levels.

Should I Take Heme or Non-Heme Iron: Which is Better?

If you need to quickly boost your iron levels and aren't vegetarian or vegan, heme iron may be a better choice due to its higher absorption rates. If you're on a plant-based diet, or prefer a non-animal source, non-heme iron is your go-to option.

For those seeking an option designed for effective absorption without adding difficulties on the system, Nano Iron is something to consider. It is crafted with a focus on facilitating a pure and simple absorption and minimizing discomfort. It is an advantageous alternative to traditional heme and non-heme sources because of its complete purity.

How Your Body Absorbs Heme vs. Non-Heme Iron

When it comes to absorption, Heme iron has an advantage because it's already part of hemoglobin or myoglobin, complex molecules your body recognizes. This type of iron bypasses certain regulatory steps in the gut, allowing for more straightforward absorption into your bloodstream.

Non-heme iron, however, has to go through a more complex process to be absorbed. First, if it's in the ferric (Fe3+) form, it needs to be converted to the ferrous (Fe2+) form. This step is necessary because your gut is better at absorbing ferrous iron. Various factors like the presence of vitamin C or certain acids in your stomach can aid in this conversion, but it's an extra step that heme iron doesn't require.

Once converted, non-heme iron then competes with other minerals and compounds for absorption, making the process less efficient. This is part of the reason why non-heme iron is harder for your body to use compared to heme iron.

Why is Non-Heme Iron Hard to Absorb?

You might be wondering why non-heme iron faces more hurdles during absorption. The answer lies in its lack of a protective 'shell,' unlike heme iron which is encased in hemoglobin or myoglobin. This makes non-heme iron more susceptible to interactions with other substances in your digestive system.

For example, substances like phytates in plant foods can bind to non-heme iron, making it harder for your body to absorb. Calcium is another substance that can interfere with non-heme iron absorption. On the flip side, certain factors can improve its absorption, such as the presence of vitamin C.

Why Elemental Iron is a Better Choice than Either Heme or Non-Heme Iron

When it comes to iron supplements, the market has long been dominated by heme and non-heme options. 

Nano Iron features pure elemental iron as ultra-fine (nano sized) particles making it highly absorbable. 

What's more, Nano Iron is suitable for everyone, regardless of dietary choices. Whether you're vegetarian, vegan, or neither, this supplement offers a one-size-fits-all solution to meet your iron needs without compromise.

Is Non-Heme Iron Ferric or Ferrous?

When talking about non-heme iron, you'll often hear the terms 'ferric' and 'ferrous.' These describe the two forms in which non-heme iron exists, and they have different implications for how well your body can absorb them.

Ferric iron (Fe3+) is the oxidized form of iron and is commonly found in plant foods. Before your body can absorb it efficiently, it needs to be reduced to ferrous iron (Fe2+), the more easily absorbed form. This reduction process usually happens in the stomach, aided by stomach acid.

Ferrous iron (Fe2+), on the other hand, is already in a form that your body can more easily absorb. Many non-heme iron supplements contain ferrous iron for this reason, as it bypasses the need for the conversion process that ferric iron requires.

So, when choosing a non-heme iron supplement, look for one that contains ferrous iron if you want to maximize absorption.

Or alternatively use Nano Iron which is fully absorbable without the need of digestion.

Side Effects of Heme and Non-Heme Iron

Both heme and non-heme iron supplements can lead to a range of unpleasant side effects. The scientific basis for these effects lies in their interaction with the digestive tract and gut microbiota.

Heme iron, despite its superior absorption, can still irritate the gastrointestinal lining. This is because it's often absorbed in larger quantities, which can lead to issues like stomach cramps or nausea.

Non-heme iron presents a different set of challenges. Since it's not as easily absorbed, it can remain in the gut for a longer period, interacting with the microbiota. This can lead to an imbalance, favouring certain bacteria that can produce gases and other by-products, causing bloating and even altering stool consistency and colour.

However, Nano Iron is different in that it is completely pure with a negative electrical charge. Because of this and due to its nanometric size (below 10nm), it is already in a form that is highly absorbable. This results in minimal side effects and disturbance to the gut microbiota, making it a compelling option for those concerned about side effects and gut health.

Heme and Non-heme FAQs

Is non-heme iron safer than heme iron?

There is some evidence to suggest that high intake of heme iron, particularly from processed meats and red meats, may be associated with an increased risk of certain health conditions. Non-heme iron, while less efficiently absorbed, does not appear to have the same associations with these risks. Thus, from a safety perspective, non-heme iron is often considered to have fewer potential health risks than heme iron.

Do eggs have heme or non-heme iron?

Eggs contain non-heme iron. The iron found in egg yolks is in a non-heme form, which is not absorbed as efficiently as the heme iron found in meat and seafood.


Why is heme iron bad?

Heme iron is not inherently "bad"; it is an important nutrient that is essential for transporting oxygen in the blood. However, concerns about heme iron relate to its potential links to increased risks of certain diseases when consumed in high amounts, particularly from red and processed meats.

Does vitamin C help absorb non-heme iron?

Yes, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) significantly enhances the absorption of non-heme iron. It can convert non-heme iron into a form that is more readily absorbed by the body and can also bind to non-heme iron, keeping it in a state that is more soluble and less likely to form insoluble and unabsorbable complexes with other dietary inhibitors.

Do bananas block iron absorption?

Bananas do not block iron absorption. In fact, they contain vitamin C, which can aid in the absorption of non-heme iron when consumed with iron-rich foods.

Is heme iron a carcinogen?

Heme iron itself is not classified as a carcinogen. 

Does coffee affect heme iron absorption?

Coffee, which contains polyphenols, is known to inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron when consumed within close proximity to an iron-rich meal. However, coffee's effect on heme iron absorption is less pronounced. Heme iron's absorption is generally less affected by dietary inhibitors.

Does coffee block heme iron?

Coffee does not block heme iron in the same way it does non-heme iron. The absorption of heme iron is largely unaffected by coffee and other dietary components known to inhibit non-heme iron absorption.