Why do pregnant women need iron?

Pregnant women need additional iron intake, but if the body controls absorption and uptake, then why is diet not enough? While it may be true that the diet doesn’t provide enough, it may also include other factors beyond iron intake that may also affect women pre- and post-pregnancy.

There are many dietary factors that can inhibit iron absorption.(1) Among these factors are:

– polyphenols of gallic acid that are found in coffee and tea,
– oxalic acid of spinach, chard, berries, chocolate and tea,
– phytates found in legumes,
– preservatives like EDTA,
– phosvitin found in egg yolks;
– and other minerals such as calcium, calcium phosphate salts, zinc, manganese, and nickel.(1p422)

In addition, there are factors that enhance iron absorption. These include:

– acids like ascorbic, citric, lactic and tartaric acid
– sugars
– meat, poultry and fish
– and mucin.(1p422)

When iron deficiency is a problem, thus, wisdom would suggest considering what is inhibiting absorption and what could be added to the diet to enhance absorption.


1. Gropper, S.S., Smith, J.L. & Groff, J.L. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, 4th ed; 2005. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Published by David Despain, MS, CFS

David is a science and health writer living on Long Island, New York. He's written for a variety of publications including Scientific American, Outside Online, the American Society for Nutrition's (ASN) Nutrition Notes Daily, and Institute of Food Technologists' (IFT) Food Technology magazine and Live! blog. He's also covered new findings reported at scientific meetings including Experimental Biology, AAAS, AOCS, CASW, Sigma Xi, IFT, and others on his personal blog "Evolving Health." David is also an active member of organizations including the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Society for Nutrition, the Institute of Food Technologists, and the National Audubon Society. David has a master's degree in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, and a bachelor's degree in English from University of Illinois at Springfield. He also earned his Certified Food Scientist credential from the Institute of Food Technologists.

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