Heme Iron Vs. Nonheme Iron: What’s the Difference?

Not all iron is created equally, and if you have an iron imbalance, you should carefully consider which iron is best for your health. Your body recognizes the difference between heme and nonheme iron sources and will absorb each type differently. These types are easy to identify in your daily diet. Heme iron comes from animals, and nonheme iron comes from plants. Here is everything else you need to know about the differences between heme and nonheme iron and how each can affect your health.

What Is Heme Iron?

Heme iron is the type of iron found in blood and muscle. Present in animal foods like red meats, fish, and poultry, heme iron is a significant source of the absorbed iron in a typical western diet, though it only makes up about one-third of dietary iron.[1] Heme iron gets its name from the heme protein attached to a lone iron atom. The “heme” in the blood protein hemoglobin refers to this protein-bound form of iron.

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