Many women need to take iron supplements if they’re not getting enough iron from the foods they eat. This can be especially true for women on weight loss diets. But do you have to take the iron on an empty stomach?

When you buy a bottle of iron supplements, the label will probably tell you to take the iron on an empty stomach. But does that really matter? Well, yes it does.

First let’s talk about iron and why you need it. Iron is important for your red blood cells to be able to carry oxygen to all the cells of the body. When you don’t get enough iron, you’ll become anemic, which means you’ll feel sick and tired all of the time.

Iron is found in dried beans, eggs, liver, red meat, fish and whole grains. The absorption of dietary iron from plants (non-heme iron) is enhanced with vitamin C (ascorbic acid), so vegetarians and vegans will benefit from eating iron-containing foods with citrus fruits and other fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C. Iron from animal sources (heme iron) is easier to absorb.

Chewable Iron for Women

Women are especially prone to anemia because of the monthly menstrual blood loss and sometimes dietary sources are not enough and supplemental iron is needed.

Oxalic acid, tannins, phytates, and some minerals found in many of the foods you eat reduce the absorption of iron in your digestive system, so it’s best to take them on an empty stomach. The forms of iron used in supplements are usually absorbed well (they’re attached to other substances — you may see iron sulfate, iron citrate etc). However, the iron in supplements in non-heme, so taking them with orange juice or other vitamin C source will enhance the absorption.

Although iron should be taken on an empty stomach, it is okay to take the supplements with food, if taking them on an empty stomach causes stomach upset. You may also wish to try a chewable iron supplement for women.


Shereen has a masters degree in human nutrition. She writes about nutrition for She is also the co-author of the upcoming book, Super Foods For Dummies.