December 7, 2023

Should You Take Iron With Vitamin C?

This pairing has long been thought to help your body better absorb iron

Oranges in bowl and tofu meal in bowl

Everyone needs a best buddy. There’s Bert and Ernie, Goose and Maverick, Bill and Ted … and iron and vitamin C!


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Remember the song lyrics, “I get by with a little help from my friends”? Vitamin C is the supportive pal that iron needs, helping your body absorb enough iron to keep you healthy.

And that’s pretty important because, well, iron is pretty important. It plays a variety of critical roles, like carrying oxygen in your blood, providing you with energy and improving your brain function. But when your body can’t get enough iron out of the iron-rich foods that you eat, adding vitamin C to the equation (aka your meal) can actually help you better absorb iron.

How vitamin C helps iron absorption

Lots of foods have iron in them. But there are two types of iron: Heme iron, which is found in animal foods like meat, seafood and poultry, is easier for your body to absorb. Your body has a harder time absorbing non-heme iron, the type found in plant-based foods.

“Some plant foods, like beans or spinach, have non-heme iron in them, but there are other properties of the plant that make that iron less available to us,” says registered dietitian Devon Peart, RD, MHSc.

But vitamin C can help.

“Consuming foods that are high in vitamin C at the same meal with iron-rich plant foods boosts the bioavailability of iron,” she explains. “This means you absorb more of it.”

The scientific explanation for all of this is very, well, scientific and can be difficult to understand if you’re not a scientist or a medical provider. But for nutrition purposes, it’s enough to know that your body sometimes has a hard time absorbing the iron found in plant-based foods — even though that iron is very important to your overall health.

The solution? When you eat an iron-rich food, make sure to pair it with a vitamin C-rich food. Best friends stick together after all!


Foods that are high in vitamin C include:

Vegans and vegetarians are at risk for low iron

“If you don’t eat any foods of animal origin, you may have an especially hard time getting enough iron,” Peart warns.

It all goes back to heme versus non-heme iron. Heme iron is easiest for your body to absorb, but it’s found in animal products — and of course, if you don’t eat animal products, you don’t have access to that easily absorbed heme iron.

If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet or just don’t eat much meat, you have to rely mostly or solely on non-heme iron, which is found in foods like:

  • Tofu.
  • Tempeh.
  • Beans.
  • Black-eyed peas.
  • Chickpeas.
  • Dark, leafy greens.
  • Lentils.
  • Iron-fortified bread and cereal.

Not getting enough iron in your diet can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, a blood disorder that can cause fatigue, light-headedness and other symptoms

Can vitamin C help with anemia?

“If you’re not getting enough iron, your healthcare provider may recommend dietary changes or an iron supplement,” Peart says. Providers have typically suggested taking an iron supplement with a glass of orange juice because it’s — you guessed it — rich in vitamin C.

But at least one recent study suggests that for people with anemia, pairing vitamin C with iron may not help as much as previously thought. In 2020, a randomized clinical trial of nearly 500 people with iron-deficiency anemia found that taking iron supplements alone was just as helpful as taking iron supplements with vitamin C.

If you suspect that you’re not able to get enough iron in your diet — like if you don’t eat meat and are feeling very lethargic — make an appointment to chat with a healthcare provider.


“Iron supplements can cause digestive upset or constipation, so get guidance from a doctor before you start taking a supplement,” Peart advises.

How to get enough iron

Most people need 8 to 18 milligrams (mg) of iron daily, though Peart explains that because much of the iron we consume isn’t absorbed, it’s not always that straightforward.

“Supplements might have 26 mg for the daily amount, or even up to 150 mg,” she says, “so people might think they need to supplement with, say, 8 mg, but it would not be enough.”

Instead, it’s always better to get your vitamins and nutrients through food than through supplements. When you eat a plant food that’s rich in iron, focus on pairing it with something that’s high in vitamin C, which will help give your body an assist on absorption.

“If you’re having spinach salad, for example, try sprinkling some lemon juice, or adding vitamin C-rich strawberries, orange segments or red peppers,” Peart suggests. “All of these will help boost absorption of iron from the spinach.”

Here are some other ideas:

Related Articles

foods with water soluble vitamins
May 15, 2023
What You Should Know About Water-Soluble Vitamins

Vitamin C and B-complex vitamins pass quickly through your body, so eat them often

corn husk silk
April 16, 2023
Can You Eat Corn Silk? 4 Health Benefits of Corn Silk

These silky strands can reduce cholesterol and inflammation, and more

Closeup of vitamin C rich red peppers in a silver bowl.
April 9, 2023
17 Foods That Are High in Vitamin C

Move over, oranges! You can also get vitamin C from strawberries, kiwi and green veggies

Citrus, broccoli, spinach, red onion, cucumber, yams and other foods with vitamin C
April 4, 2023
5 Ways Vitamin C Keeps You Healthy

From healing wounds to boosting your immune system, this is one multifaceted vitamin

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
March 14, 2023
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey

Person using a gentle face cleanser at sink.
March 2, 2023
Best Ingredients and Products for Your Anti-Aging Skin Care Routine

Keep it simple: Stick with a gentle cleanser, vitamin C, retinol, moisturizer and sunscreen

Girl drinking orange juice
December 22, 2022
Can Vitamin C Help You Fight a Cold?

Not only can it strengthen your immune system, but vitamin C can do a whole lot more, too

Closeup of person holding vitamin C serum, with dropper filled with liquid.
December 11, 2022
What Can Vitamin C Do for Your Skin?

This popular ingredient isn’t just for citrus fruits anymore

Trending Topics

close up of keto gummies
Do Keto Gummies Work for Weight Loss? Are They Safe?

Research is inconclusive whether or not these supplements are helpful

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

Older person postioned sideways showing dowager hump.
Dowager’s Hump: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It

The hump at the base of your neck may be caused by osteoporosis or poor posture