Hemochromatosis Dietary Guidelines

Hemochromatosis is a disease that causes your body to absorb too much iron from the food you eat. The excess iron is stored in your organs, especially your liver, heart and pancreas. The extra iron can damage your organs. Part of the treatment your doctor will recommend will include implementing some changes to your diet.

Recommended dietary guidelines…

  • Limit portion size and how often you eat organ meats, red meat and shellfish. The most bio-available iron is called heme iron and is found in animal protein. The highest amounts are in organ meats, red meat – which includes pork, beef, and lamb – and shellfish. Choose lower iron options, such as chicken and fish, more often.  Decreasing the portion size of high iron meats will also limit iron. Plant foods also contain iron called non-heme iron and it is less well absorbed.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. They contain antioxidants which help protect your cells from being damaged by the excess iron.
  • Eat beans, grains, fruits and vegetables. These contain non-heme iron which is not absorbed well. These foods are high in fiber, which impairs the absorption of non-heme iron and promote healthy digestion.
  • Avoid cereals with high levels of added iron. Choose those with wheat bran.
  • Consume plenty of fruits and vegetables, including spinach. These foods contain fiber and antioxidants, which inhibit free radical production. Spinach contains oxalates which impair absorption of iron contained in this plant.
  • Avoid raw shellfish. Shellfish contain a bacterium Vibrio vulnificus, which can be fatal to people with hemochromatosis. Take care when walking barefoot on beaches where contaminated shells may be present.
  • Include coffee and tea with your meals when possible. These beverages contain tannins, which inhibit the absorption of iron. In addition, consuming eggs, fiber, wheat bran, flax meal can impair the absorption of non-heme iron. Supplemental calcium impairs  the absorption of both heme and non-heme iron.
  • Avoid too many sugary foods as these increase iron absorption.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol enhances the absorption of iron and too much alcohol can damage the liver. If you do choose to drink moderately, choose red wine. It can be of benefit when consumed in moderation because of the tannins it contains. Patients with elevated liver enzymes or liver damage such as cirrhosis should avoid alcohol completely.
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