Anemia is a condition in which the blood does not have enough red blood cells or enough hemoglobin – the iron-containing, oxygen-carrying protein molecules found in the red blood cells. One cause of anemia is iron deficiency. Because anemia can be life-threatening, it must be treated. In many cases, an iron-rich diet is sufficient to resolve the condition.
It can result from any of the following factors.
- Blood loss following a surgical procedure
- External bleeding in women due to heavy menstrual periods
- Chronic diseases which disable red blood cell production
- Lack of consumption of iron-rich food sources due to strict dieting or poverty
Signs and Symptoms
Anemia often presents as fatigue and listlessness and can develop into more serious symptoms – up to and including heart failure. Some of the symptoms of anemia include:
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Prevent anemia by eating a healthy diet that includes a variety of iron-rich foods and reducing or eliminating your intake of alcohol.
Your individual treatment plan should be determined with your doctor and will be unique to you and your situation. Your treatment may include:
- Dietary changes
- Lifestyle changes
- Homeopathic treatment
- Medication and/or medical procedures
An anemia diet is a meal plan that contains iron-rich food source and foods that aid the absorption of iron. It may also include iron supplements. Iron supplements should be taken under a doctor’s supervision because the risk of toxicity in the case of high supplemental doses of iron is significant.
Foods that are Rich in Iron
There are two types of iron in food sources. Heme iron is found in animal products and non-heme iron is found in plant foods.
1. Heme Iron Foods
These are the foods that contain the ‘heme iron’ which is present in the animal products. Examples of foods that are rich in heme iron are given as follows.
- Chicken liver
- Beef liver
- Sardines, shellfish, and fish
2. Non-Heme Iron Foods
These are the foods that contain the ‘non-heme iron’ which is present in the plant products as well as in milk, meat and eggs. Examples of foods that are rich in non-heme iron are given as follows.
- Green leafy vegetables
- Enriched breakfast cereals
- Pumpkin seeds
- Cooked lentils and beans
- Baked potato
- Enriched pasta
Foods that Boost Iron Absorption
- Foods rich in vitamin C and citric acid such as oranges
- Fruits like cantaloupes, strawberries, and grapefruits
- Vegetables like broccoli, tomato, brussels sprouts, and red and green peppers
- Salmon and some other kinds of fish
- Wheat germ
Foods that Inhibit Iron Absorption
- Foods that contain high amount of the minerals zinc, calc
- ium, copper, and magnesium. These minerals compete with iron for their absorption
- Foods that contain high amount of fiber
- Legumes, grains, and other plant foods that contain phytic ac
- Eggs, both the whites and the yolks
- Tea, coffee and other beverages that contain tannic acid
- Some herbs, including chamomile and, peppermint
A Sample Meal Plan
This sample meal plan was created with a selection of foods that support adequate iron intake.
Oatmeal breakfast sweetened with molasses, raisins, and prune juice
Apricots and raisins
Sloppy joes and shredded chicken tortillas
Dark green vegetables like kale or spinach
Turkey, beef, chicken or fish.
Additional Tips for Boosting Iron Intake and Absorption
- Eat iron-fortified foods such as iron-fortified cereals and
- Cook food, especially acidic food, in iron cookware at high temperatures.
Always consult your doctor before beginning a new diet or exercise regimen.
Escott-Stump, S. Nutrition and Diagnosis-Related Care, Sixth Edition; Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins; 2008
Mahan, L. K., et al.; Krause’s Food, Nutrition, and Diet Therapy, Eleventh Edition; Saunders 2004
Iron Deficiency Anemia; MayoClinic.com; March 2011; http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/iron-deficiency-anemia/DS00323