Food to Eat if You Are Anaemic
Anaemia is a common condition in which the body does not have enough circulating red blood cells. This lack of red cells can occur for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from chronic illness, response to medical treatments such as chemotherapy, blood loss, and many other disease states. Anaemia can also occur if the body is deficient in the compounds that are used to create new red blood cells, primarily iron, folate and vitamin B12.
Red cells contain a compound called haemoglobin. This compound transports oxygen around the body. If you don’t have enough red blood cells to transport adequate oxygen around the body, then symptoms of anaemia, such as fatigue, breathlessness, palpitations and sensitivity to the cold, can arise.
What to eat if you are anaemic
In this article, we will look at the best foods to eat if you want to naturally boost your red blood cell production and help your body to compensate for anaemia. But if you are anaemic, or think you may be anaemic, you must also consult with your doctor immediately.
Iron containing foods
Iron is an essential component for blood cell production and is stored as ferritin in the body. Iron deficiency anaemia can occur as a result of blood loss (including heavy menstrual bleeding), oral contraceptives, poor iron uptake or absorption, and parasitic worms. Iron is essential for the production of haemoglobin, which is the compound that delivers oxygen around the body. Symptoms of iron deficiency include shortness of breath, tiredness, lethargy, paleness and dry nails.
Iron-rich foods include beef, chicken, dark chocolate, lentils, brown rice, tofu, eggs, dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish and some dried fruits such as dried raisins, prunes and apricots.
Folate containing foods
Folate deficiency is caused by low levels of folic acid in the body. Folate deficiency can arise if there is a lack of folic acid in the diet, an increased requirement for folate – such as pregnancy –, or sometimes as a side-effect of alcoholism. Folate helps to make and repair DNA, and is used to produce red blood cells. Symptoms of folate deficiency can include fatigue, mouth sores, tongue swelling, paleness and shortness of breath.
Dietary folate can be found in lentils, beans, dark leafy greens, avocado, broccoli, asparagus and citrus fruits.
Vitamin B12 containing foods
Vitamin B12 deficiency (hypocabalaminemia) can occur for a number of different reasons, including decreased absorption (commonly due to pernicious anaemia), chronic inflammation, lack of dietary intake – especially common in vegans, malnourishment and as a result of certain types of medication. Vitamin B12 is essential for red blood cell production and nerve function, so symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency can include megaloblastic anaemia, fatigue, rapid heartrate, hyperventilation, easy bruising, bleeding, sore tongue, gastrointestinal upsets and nerve cell damage.
Vitamin B12 is found in animal foods such as meat (particularly turkey and beef), fish, shellfish (especially clams and crab) and eggs.
Foods to avoid if you have anaemia
Certain foods can inhibit the absorption of the above nutrients. Calcium interferes with the absorption of iron in the body1, therefore people with anaemia are often advised to avoid calcium-rich dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt. Lack of calcium can result in an increased risk of osteoporosis, so if you are considering removing dairy products from your diet, you must discuss this with your doctor. Tea and coffee contains compounds known as tannins, these tannins are known to bind to iron, reducing iron absorption in the gut.2,3. Rather than cutting these food groups out of the diet, a more moderate approach would be to eat them at different times to your iron, folate and vitamin B12 containing foods, and drink tea and coffee between meal times rather than with your food.
Food to eat if you are anaemic summary
If you are anaemic, certain foods can help your body to naturally boost red cell production. Dark leafy greens, eggs, fish, beans, lentils and brown rice can all help to replace nutrient deficiencies. These foods should not be eaten at the same time as calcium-rich foods or teas and coffees containing tannins.
Food is not a cure for anaemia, if you think you are anaemic then you must visit your doctor as soon as possible.