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24 Aug 2015

What is Anemia?

Derived from Greek origin, the word Anemia means "without blood", and as the name suggests, it occurs due to a deficiency in red blood corpuscles (RBC) and/ or haemoglobin. The blood in our bodies is composed of three types of cells (red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets) that circulate throughout the body. Red blood cells contain haemoglobin (Hb), a red, iron-rich protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to all of the body's muscles and organs. Anaemia is a broad term applied to the condition in which there is the inadequate or defective formation of haemoglobin and defective maturation and formation of red blood cells.

Anyone can develop iron-deficiency anaemia, and roughly 20% of women (and 50% of pregnant women) and 3% of men are iron deficient.


Prevalence of Anemia:

  • Poor density and bioavailability of dietary iron from staple foods are the major etiological factors for the widespread prevalence of iron deficiency in India. Iron deficiency anaemia affects over 2 billion people in the world.


Causes of Iron Deficiency:

  • Inadequate Iron Intake: Eating too little iron over an extended amount of time can cause a shortage in your body.

  • Blood Loss Due to Menstruation: The most common cause of iron deficiency anaemia is heavy menstrual bleeding. 

  • Internal Bleeding: Certain medical conditions can cause internal bleeding, which can lead to iron-deficiency anaemia. Regular use of pain relievers, such as aspirin, can also cause bleeding in the stomach.

  • Inability to Absorb Iron: Certain disorders or surgeries that affect the intestines can also interfere with how your body absorbs iron

  • Increased requirements: During a period of accelerated demand like in infancy, adolescence (rapid growth and onset of menses in girls) and pregnancy and lactation can result in anaemia.

  • Poverty/Processed Foods: When a person is poor he cannot afford healthy food to eat and when a person is well off he chooses not to eat healthy foods instead he chooses foods that are processed(high in fats, refined flour, salt, sugar etc.)


Symptoms common to many types of Anemia include the following:

  • Easy fatigue  and loss of energy

  • Rapid Heartbeat

  • Pale skin

  • Shortness of breath and headache 

  • Difficulty concentrating


What foods are high in iron?

  • The iron in food comes from two sources: Animals and Plants. Iron from animal sources is known as heme iron and is found in various meats and fish. Iron from plants is known as nonheme iron and is found in certain vegetables and iron-fortified foods such as breakfast cereals. Heme iron is better absorbed by the body than nonheme iron.

  • Here is a list of foods rich in Heme Iron & Non-Heme Iron


Heme Iron Foods Non-Heme Iron Foods
  • Red Meat
  • Legumes (Soybeans, Chickpea, Cow Pea)
  • Poultry
  • Grains (Bajra, Rice Flakes, Sanwa)
  • Sea Food
  • Nuts and Seeds (Garden Cress Seeds, Groundnut, Almonds)
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables (Amaranth, Cauliflower, Spinach)


  • Fruits (Watermelons, Berries, Amla)


Nutrition Management for Anemia: 

  1. Include Iron-fortified grains and cereals, whole grains, egg yolks, green leafy vegetables  and fruits and dry fruits

  2. If one is a vegetarian, the person needs to make an extra effort to ensure sufficient iron sources because iron found in meat, poultry, and fish is more easily absorbed(around 24% of total iron is absorbed) than iron found in plant-based and iron-fortified foods(only 2% is absorbed).

  3. Add more beans to the diet. Also, choose plant-based sources, and beans are a great one.

  4. A high protein diet is recommended. Meats and liver can be included but in limited proportions, also eggs and tofu can be included. 

  5.  Ensuring regular consumption of food that is rich in vitamin C, Vitamin c helps in better absorption of iron, including sweet lime, orange, Indian gooseberry [amla], guava, lime, strawberries, papaya, pomegranate, tomatoes, broccoli, bell peppers.

  6. Using iron-based utensils for cooking will also act as one of the mediums of incorporating iron into the diet.

  7. Anaemia can be caused by unnecessary dieting and over-exercise. Also, excessive consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine causes the body to absorb iron poorly. Avoid over-consumption of these substances.

  8. Eat plenty of dark, leafy greens. They contain high levels of iron. Spinach, kale, and collards are some of the best options for non-heme iron.

  9. Garden cress seeds are very high in Iron and Folic acid content. These seeds are used as herbal medicine to treat iron deficiency anaemia. People consuming 1tsp/day have been seen to have well-increased levels of haemoglobin over 1-2 months.

  10. Avoid too much consumption of Tea & Coffee, they contain polyphenols that block iron absorption.

  11. Poha as a breakfast or snack is an excellent option due to its iron content.


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