Anaemia is a medical condition characterised by an inadequate level of healthy red blood cells in the body. It can result from the destruction of these cells, blood loss, or a lack of red blood cell production.
The most common form of anaemia is iron deficiency anaemia, which occurs when the body does not have enough iron to produce enough haemoglobin.
Haemoglobin is a crucial component of red blood cells and is responsible for transporting oxygen from the heart to the body’s tissues.
Since haemoglobin, a component of red blood cells, transports oxygen from the heart to the body’s tissues, this presents a significant challenge. Poor nutrition and blood loss are the leading causes of iron deficiency anaemia.
Symptoms of Anemia
The following symptoms might appear if you have iron deficiency anaemia or low iron levels:
- Shortness of breath
- Cold hands and feet
- Irregular heartbeat
- Anxiety and depression
- Chest pain
An iron-rich diet is a priority for those with iron deficiency anaemia. It is especially true for pregnant women, people with medical illnesses such as Crohn’s disease, those who have had bariatric surgery, or females with heavy menstrual cycles, who may experience severe anaemia.
Read more: 7 Iron Rich Drinks to Boost Your Hemoglobin
Anemia Diet – An Overview
Studies have shown that dietary modifications are essential to anaemia treatment plans. For iron deficiency anaemia, a balanced diet that includes foods rich in both heme and non-heme iron is vital.
For example, one can get heme iron from seafood, poultry, and beef, while one can get non-heme iron from plant foods and foods fortified with iron.
The body can absorb both forms of iron. However, heme iron is easier to absorb. Additionally, it is vital to include meals that boost iron and other vitamin absorption for haemoglobin production. It is also crucial to avoid foods that could hinder this process.
As per the National Institute of Health (NIH), the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) for iron differs based on sex and age. For example, newborns under six months require only 0.27 milligrams (mg) of iron daily; adults aged 19 to 50 need 8 mg for males and 18 mg for females.
However, as the body cannot absorb large quantities of iron supplements efficiently, it is recommended to adjust the dosage depending on the individual.
If you want to add iron to your diet, it is best to speak with your doctor about the correct dose. Expert nutritionists at HealthifyMe can also help you make a plan to incorporate the change you want.
The HealthifyMe Note
When starting an anaemic diet, it’s not necessary to make drastic changes all at once. Although no single food can cure anaemia, a diet that includes dark, leafy greens, nuts & seeds, seafood, meat, beans, and fruits & vegetables that are high in Vitamin C can help you to get the iron you need to manage the condition.
Foods to Eat for Anemia
If you are suffering from anaemia, adding iron-rich foods to your diet can help control the condition and potentially even cure it. Incorporate the following items into your meals to help combat anaemia:
Beans and Pulses
Eating legumes such as chickpeas, black-eyed peas, lima beans, kidney beans, and soybeans is a great way to boost iron intake, which is especially beneficial for those with anaemia. Both vegetarians and meat eaters can benefit from the nutritional advantages of these superfoods.
Fruits and Vegetables
Dark leafy vegetables such as spinach, Swiss chard, kale, peas, string beans, and sweet potatoes are naturally rich in non-heme iron. Dried fruits like apricots and dates are also good sources of iron.
To promote iron absorption in the digestive system, one must also consume citrus fruits packed with vitamin C. Swiss chard, and collard greens are great options as they are a good combination of both iron and vitamin C..;’
Meat and Fish
Animal products such as lean white meat (e.g. chicken) and seafood (e.g. oysters, tuna, and sardines) are excellent sources of heme iron. However, plant-based proteins such as soybeans and tofu are also excellent sources of iron for those who do not consume animal products.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are some of the most nutrient-dense foods per serving. Examples include cashews, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, pine nuts, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, and hazelnuts.
Start your day with a terrific breakfast of eggs, whole-grain bread, soft-roasted tomatoes, and quinoa. Not only are eggs full of protein, but they also have a significant amount of iron.
Whole grain pasta, bread, and cereal have a high phytate content but are often fortified with iron. Additionally, natural options are rich in iron and can boost the haemoglobin levels in the blood, such as quinoa, whole wheat, oats, and teff.
Foods to Avoid For Anemia
Eating certain foods can inhibit iron absorption, so consuming meals high in iron may not always be necessary. However, to reduce the absorption of iron, one should consider not eating the following:
Tea and Coffee
Avoid taking caffeinated beverages within an hour of consuming an iron supplement or eating a meal high in iron. It might prevent your body from absorbing iron.
Excess calcium prevents the body from absorbing iron. So, avoid excess consumption of milk and dairy products, including cheese, yoghurt, almonds, and bananas. These are foods high in calcium.
Foods Containing Phytates or Phytic Acid
Due to their ability to bind to iron in the digestive system, phytates can prevent iron absorption. As such, one must limit their consumption of legumes, brown rice, whole-grain wheat, and nuts.
Oxalic Acid-containing Foods
Avoid chocolates, peanuts, and parsley as they contain oxalic acid.
Foods Containing Gluten
For certain individuals, gluten can damage the intestinal wall. It impairs the body’s ability to absorb folic acid and iron. Folic acid and iron are required for red blood cells (RBCs). Wheat products, pasta, barley, rye, and oats are some of the most common sources of gluten.
Anemia Diet – Reference Meal Plan Chart
A person with anaemia should focus on eating iron-rich meals and other items that help with iron absorption. However, to ensure that their body can properly absorb iron, they should also be mindful of foods that inhibit iron absorption.
The following options provide examples of healthy meals for someone with anaemia.
- Oatmeal topped with fruits and seeds
- Egg toast with a glass of orange juice
- Banana smoothie made with milk and yoghurt, oatmeal with raisins
- Breakfast hash made with chickpeas, chicken sausage, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and spinach
- Chicken salad with lettuce, grapes, and whole wheat crackers.
- Beans on a whole wheat bun, baked sweet potato fries, and a mixed green salad
- Grilled cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread with tomato soup, carrot sticks, and an orange
- Tofu salad and spinach soup
- Lamb chops with boiled potatoes, steamed broccoli, and curly kale.
- A stew includes kidney beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, tinned tomatoes, onions, red peppers, and garlic.
- Vegetable salad with two roti (methi/onion/carrot/lauki) and lentils.
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Cooking Tips For Anemia
To maximise the iron content of your meals, consider the following tips:
- Cook meat or vegetables in a cast iron skillet. Research shows that cooking meals in cast iron or skillet can help boost iron absorption.
- Aim to keep the cooking time as short as possible without compromising food safety.
- Drizzle lemon juice on your grilled fish to increase your body’s iron uptake.
- If you have certain health conditions or risk factors, try adding beans, lentils, or tofu to your meals instead of relying on red meat daily.
The HealthifyMe Note
If you are trying to increase your blood iron levels, adding iron-rich foods to your diet can help. However, cutting out dairy products could lead to low calcium levels. Additionally, consuming too much iron through foods, supplements, or both may put you at risk for iron overload. Moreover, seeking medical advice before changing your diet is essential.
Iron is a necessary nutrient for the human body, and one can find it in a variety of plant-based diets as well as other foods. Incorporating these foods into your diet can help you meet your iron needs and may improve your overall health.
If you suffer from anaemia, a healthy diet may help you get the iron you need to manage it. However, if your anaemia is severe or does not respond to dietary changes, you may require a blood transfusion or iron infusions to restore your body’s iron levels.
As it can be challenging to get enough iron from food alone, speak to your healthcare provider about taking supplements. Additionally, you should consider your lifestyle choices, exercise routine, and mental health to keep your blood pressure levels and general health in check.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: What foods are good for anemia?
A: Eating iron-rich foods can help to prevent and treat anaemia. Iron-rich foods include lean red meat, seafood, poultry, nuts, beans, dark green leafy vegetables, iron-fortified cereals, and dried fruit.
Other beneficial foods for anaemia include vitamin C-rich foods such as oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, and tomatoes and foods high in folic acids, such as lentils and asparagus. A balanced diet that includes these foods can help ensure adequate iron and other essential nutrients for overall health.
Q: What to avoid eating if you’re anemic?
A: If you are anaemic, it is crucial to avoid certain foods that can worsen your symptoms. These foods include processed foods high in refined sugar, processed meats, and fried foods. Additionally, it is best to avoid drinking too much caffeine and alcohol, as these can interfere with iron absorption. Eating over-cooked vegetables can also reduce iron absorption, so eating them raw or lightly cooked is best. Lastly, avoiding consuming large amounts of dairy products is essential, as they can interfere with iron absorption.
Q: Which fruit is best for anemia?
A: Fruits rich in iron, such as raisins, dates, figs, prunes, apricots, and apples, can be beneficial for those suffering from anaemia. Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, are also excellent sources of vitamin C that can help increase iron absorption from other foods. Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries are also full of antioxidants and can help increase the effectiveness of iron supplements. Additionally, bananas are a great source of potassium and magnesium, which can help reduce fatigue and improve blood circulation.
Q: What is a good breakfast for anemia?
A: A good breakfast for anaemia should include iron-rich foods, such as fortified cereals, lean red meats, fish, poultry, leafy greens, legumes, nuts and seeds, and eggs. It should also include foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, kiwi, bell peppers, and tomatoes, as vitamin C helps the body absorb iron.
A high-fibre breakfast that includes whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is also helpful in keeping the body’s energy levels up throughout the day. Adding a supplement of iron and vitamin C to breakfast can also improve anaemia symptoms.
Q: Is boiled egg good for anemia?
A: Boiled eggs can be a good source of iron for anaemia, as they are a good source of heme iron (a type of iron that the body absorbs more easily). If you are anaemic, combining eggs with other iron-rich foods is essential to optimise your iron intake. Eating eggs with foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, is a great way to increase iron absorption.
Q: What drinks help with anemia?
A: Drinks that help with anaemia include green smoothies made with spinach and other leafy greens, green juices, and herbal teas. Drinking plenty of water is also beneficial for preventing anaemia, as it helps to flush out toxins from the body.
The Supporting Sources
1. Sun, J., Zhang, L., Cui, J. et al. Effect of dietary intervention treatment on children with iron deficiency anaemia in China: a meta-analysis. Lipids Health Dis 17, 108 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12944-018-0749-x –https://lipidworld.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12944-018-0749-x#citeas
2. Iron: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals by National Institute for Health – https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/#h2
3. Food prepared in iron cooking pots as an intervention for reducing iron deficiency anaemia in developing countries: a systematic review. P. D. Prinsen Geerligs, B. J. Brabin, A. A. A. Omari – https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1365-277X.2003.00447.x