La carence en fer

Definition of iron deficiency

It is important to differentiate between iron deficiency and anemia. Iron deficiency is characterized by depletion of the body's iron stores, with no indication of the degree of depletion or the presence of anemia. An individual can be deficient in iron without being anemic. However, iron deficiency remains a common cause of anemia, a condition where the body's iron stores are very low. Iron deficiency is also one of the most common deficiencies in the world.

Etiology of iron deficiency

In adults, iron deficiency is usually caused by loss of blood, such as heavy menstrual bleeding or bleeding in the digestive tract. It can also be caused by certain digestive diseases that lead to malabsorption, such asceliac disease. Finally, iron deficiency can also be due to an inadequate diet, especially in children and pregnant women who have increased iron needs.

Symptoms of iron deficiency

When the body's iron stores are severely depleted, iron deficiency anemia, also called iron deficiency anemia, occurs. Symptoms of anemia can include fatigue, weakness, pallor, difficulty concentrating and learning. Severe anemia can also cause a rapid heart rate, dizziness, difficulty breathing, and missed periods.

Diagnosis of iron deficiency

The diagnosis of iron deficiency is usually made based on the symptoms present and the results of blood tests. When making a diagnosis, it is also important to differentiate anemia caused by iron deficiency from another type of anemia. Iron deficiency anemia is characterized by abnormally small and pale red blood cells.

Treatment of iron deficiency

When iron deficiency is caused by bleeding, treatment involves controlling the bleeding. Treatment may also include taking medications,food supplements and rarely intravenous administration of iron. When iron deficiency is caused by inadequate food intake, taking an iron supplement and making nutritional changes can help treat it.

Nutritional approach for iron deficiency

The nutritional approach generally includes increasing the consumption of foods rich in iron. A healthcare professional may also prescribe an iron supplement.

Iron in food

Iron is a mineral that is naturally found in many foods. There are two types of iron: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is found in foods of animal origin such as meat, fish and seafood. Non-heme iron is mainly found in foods of plant origin, such as legumes, nuts, seeds, fortified grains (eg pasta), soy products (eg tofu, tempeh, fortified soy drinks) and certain vegetables (eg dark green leafy vegetables). Heme iron is better absorbed by the body than non-heme iron, which accounts for about 85% of iron intake in an average diet.

Substances that limit the absorption of non-heme iron

Some substances in food interfere with the absorption of non-haem iron. These substances bind to non-heme iron and prevent its absorption. This is particularly the case for phytates found in legumes, whole grains and nuts, calcium in milk, as well as certain polyphenols found in tea and coffee. For people who are deficient in iron, it is therefore best to consume tea or coffee at least 30 minutes before or after meals containing a non-heme source of iron.

Increase absorption of non-heme iron

There are two ways to increase your body's absorption of non-heme iron. The first is to combine a source of non-heme iron with a source of vitamin C, which is mainly found in vegetables and fruits. For example, you can drizzle spinach with a squeeze of lemon juice or serve a pasta salad with tomatoes. The second way to increase the absorption of non-heme iron is by combining it with animal proteins. For example, you can combine red beans and minced meat in a chili.

Daily iron requirements in adults

Age group

Recommended daily amount (mg)

19 to 50 year old men


Women aged 19 to 50


Men and women aged 51 and over


Pregnant women aged 19 and over


Breastfeeding women aged 19 and over



Sources of heme iron

Heme iron is found in foods of animal origin such as:

  • Meat (e.g. beef, pork, lamb)
  • Poultry (e.g .: chicken, turkey)
  • Fish (e.g. trout, tuna, sardines)
  • Seafood (e.g. shrimp, scallops, mussels, oysters)
  • Offal (e.g. liver, kidneys)

Sources of non-heme iron

Non-heme iron is mainly found in foods of plant origin such as:

  • Legumes (e.g. green lentils, chickpeas, white beans)
  • Nuts and nut butters (e.g. peanuts, almonds, pistachios)
  • Seeds and seed butters (e.g. pumpkin, sunflower)
  • Certain vegetables (e.g .: asparagus, broccoli, spinach)
  • Grains and enriched grains (e.g. grau, bread, pasta)
  • Thedried fruit (e.g .: grapes, prunes,dates,apricots)
  • Soy-based products (ex .: very firm tofu, tempeh, fortified soy drinks)
  • Molasses
  • Yeast extract-based spreads (e.g. Marmite, Vegemite)


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  4. Understanding Nutrition, by Eleanor N. Whitney et al., Nelson Education, 2013, pp. 443451..

Article written by:

Marie-Noël Marsan, Nutritionist


Maladies digestives

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