Anemia is a blood disorder that is brought on by the shortage of red blood cells and hemoglobin in the body. The most common type of anemia and what most people know of is called iron deficiency anemia. Like the name implies, iron deficiency anemia is when there is insufficient iron in the body. The red blood cells in the body need iron to produce hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that distributes the oxygen from the lungs throughout the rest of the body. This lack of oxygen in the body can cause the heart to work faster than normal leaving the body short of breath and tired.
A person can develop anemia if there is not enough iron in the body or the body cannot properly observe iron. Anyone can develop anemia, especially if someone who has an iron deficient diet. However, the demographics who are most at risk of developing anemia due to iron deficiency are women because of blood loss brought on by their monthly menstruation and childbirth, and people 65 and older who have low iron diets.
People with anemia can experience extreme fatigue, pale complexions, cold hands and feet, dizziness, headaches, brittleness of hair and nails, and irregular heartbeat. It is important to visit a doctor is these symptoms are experienced as they can be a sign of iron deficiency anemia. As per the doctor’s instructions to treatment, anemia can be treated through iron supplements and starting an iron-rich diet.
Some people may develop a type of anemia called pernicious anemia that occurs when the body is deficient in the vitamin B12. This can negatively impact the body’s ability to produce healthy red blood cells. So it is important to plan a diet that includes foods both high in vitamin B and iron.
Recommended Foods to Eat
Anemia can be treated through iron supplements and changes in their diets that accommodate more iron-rich foods and less food that can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iron, like foods rich in calcium. And there are plenty of Filipino recipes to help enrich the experience of following this diet.
There are two type of iron in foods the body can absorb. Heme iron and nonheme iron. Heme iron which can be found in meat, poultry, and seafood, is the type of iron the body finds easier to absorb while nonheme iron is found in edible plants and foods fortified with iron.
It is important to note that people with anemia should first and foremost consult with a health professional regarding their supplements and diets to treat their anemia.
With that said, here are some recommended foods high in iron for anemics to eat:
1. Lean Red Meats
Lean red meats are the best source of heme irons such as grass fed beef, pork, lamb, and venison. Iron from these sources can provide about 22% of the daily recommended levels of iron. It is recommended to eat lean red meats along with leafy greens as nonheme iron sources to maximize iron intake for anemics as well as foods rich with vitamin C to increase iron absorptions. Tofu and soybeans can be iron and protein substitutes for people who do not wish to consume animal products, although it won’t have as high iron contents as lean red meats.
2. Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy green vegetables are rich in nonheme iron that can be used to replenish for iron deficiency. However, only 30% of nonheme iron can be absorbed by the body so it is recommended to increase portion sizes, although it is not recommended to solely rely on getting your iron intake on leafy greens alone.
Kale and cooked spinach are highly recommended for people with anemia to eat. Both of these leafy greens have high iron content and contain vitamins A and E. However, kale and spinach also contain calcium and are high in oxalate which can both hinder the absorption of iron. So it is important to eat foods rich in vitamin C to help with absorption of iron like oranges, strawberries, and red pepper. Some greens can both contain vitamin C and are high in iron content such as collard greens and Swiss chard.
Poultry is a top contender for favorite protein for people with anemia who aren’t the biggest fan of vegetables and red meat. Poultry also contains heme iron is only second to lean red meats to being the best source of iron. To maximize the absorption of iron, a cut of poultry can be paired in a dish with nonheme iron rich foods such as leafy greens. Chicken is the ideal poultry for anemics to eat as it’s able to provide iron and is easy to prepare and in a variety of different ways.
Good news for season fans. Most fish contain iron that our bodies can absorb. Shellfish are also good sources of heme iron such as oysters, clams, and shrimp.
Fish high in iron include sardines, canned or fresh tuna, salmon, halibut, perch, and haddock. Again, to maximize iron intake on the food you eat, pair the seafood with leafy vegetable for nonheme iron and citrus or other foods rich in vitamin C to increase absorbtion of iron in the body.
5. Beans and Lentils
Beans lentils are great sources of iron as well as an overall healthy food to consume because it’s full of a variety of nutrients and minerals. This can be especially enjoyed by people who doesnt like animal based products. A half cup of beans or lentils can provide for 20% or 3.3 milligrams of iron intake the body needs for a day.
Examples of beans and lentil rich in iron are soybeans, black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, peas, black-eyed peas, pinto peas, and lima beans.
Other Tips to Increase Iron Absorption
As mentioned above, Vitamin C helps greatly in the absorption of iron because it helps convert the nonheme iron in plants into a usable form. This helps the body better absorb iron, especially nonheme iron found in plants. So it is generally recommended for people with anemia to consume food high in vitamin C such as citrus fruit juice, asparagus, bell peppers, etc.
Foods to avoid
Here are some foods that people with anemia are recommended to avoid because of their properties that could negatively affect the absorption of calcium in the body. Some of these foods listed below can still be eaten by people with anemia in limited quantities in complimentary to their diet.
1. Tannin-rich Foods
Tannin is a substance that naturally accur in many-plant based foods. People with anemia should avoid foods that contain tannin as it could interfere with the absorption of iron from nonheme iron sources. Foods that are rich in tannin and should be avoided are teas, coffee, wine, grapes, sorghum, and corn.
Gluten rich foods could worsen the condition of people who have anemia thus should be avoided. Gluten can damage the intestinal wall, especially for people with celiac disease, and prevent the absorption of iron and folic acid. Both are needed for the production of red blood cells in the body. For those with celiac disease, gluten can lead to the development of anemia. Gluten can mainly be found in foods such as pasta, wheat products, barley, rye, and oats.
3. Phytate-rich Foods
Phytate or phytic acid prevents the absorption of iron by binding with the iron present in the difference tract. People with anemia are advised to avoid foods with phystate-rich foods such as whole-grain wheat, legumes, nuts, and brown rice. Although, soaking these foods in water before cooking can help decrease and even romove its phytic acid.
4. Calcium Containing Foods
The body needs calcium to help with strengthening the bones, however people with anemia are adviced to avoid eating calcium rich foods as it can interfere with the absorption of iron in the body and can wosen the condition. People who are anemic can still consume calcium but is adviced not to consume it along with iron-rich foods and iron supplements. Foods rich in calcium are cheese, yogurt, milk, nuts, and bananas.
5. Oxalic acid foods
People with anemia are adviced to limit their consumption of foods containing oxalic acid as it can also interfere with the absorption of iron in the body. During the course of medication for anemia, people are adviced to stay away from oxalic acid altogether, if possible. Foods that contain oxalic acid include, peanuts, parsley, chocolates, and spinach.
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