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Diet in Anemia

24 Aug 2015

What is Anemia?

Anemia, derived from Greek origin, means "without blood." It occurs due to a deficiency in red blood cells (RBC) and/or hemoglobin. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin (Hb), a red, iron-rich protein that carries oxygen throughout the body. Anemia is a condition where there is inadequate or defective formation of hemoglobin & red blood cells. Iron-deficiency anemia can affect around 20% of women (50% of pregnant women) & 3% of men.

Prevalence of Anemia:

The primary causes for the high prevalence of iron deficiency in India can be attributed to the inadequate concentration & absorption of dietary iron found in staple foods. This lack of density & bioavailability of iron contributes significantly to the problem. Iron deficiency anemia, which affects more than 2 billion individuals globally, is particularly widespread.


Causes of Iron Deficiency:

  • Inadequate Iron Intake: Eating a diet low in 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 anemia is heavy menstrual bleeding due to hormonal imbalances.

  • Internal Bleeding: Certain medical conditions can cause internal bleeding, which can lead to iron-deficiency anemia. 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 & onset of menses in girls), pregnancy & lactation can result in anemia.

  • Poverty/Processed Foods: When a person is poor he cannot afford healthy food. The irony is that a person who is well off chooses not to eat healthy foods instead opts for 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 & headache 

  • Difficulty concentrating


Foods rich in Iron

The iron in food comes from two sources: Animals & Plants. Iron from animal sources is known as heme iron & is found in various meats & fish. 

Iron from plants is known as nonheme iron & is found in certain vegetables & iron-fortified foods such as breakfast cereals. Heme iron is better absorbed by the body than 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 & Seeds (Garden Cress Seeds, Groundnut, Almonds)
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables (Amaranth, Cauliflower, Spinach)


  • Fruits (Watermelons, Berries, Amla)


Nutrition Management for Anemia: 

  1. Include Iron-fortified grains & cereals, whole grains, egg yolks, green leafy vegetables, fruits & 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, & fish is more easily absorbed(around 24% of total iron is absorbed) than iron found in plant-based & iron-fortified foods(only 2% is absorbed).

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

  4. A high-protein diet is recommended. Meats, eggs & liver can be included but in limited proportions. For vegetarians, tofu can be a suitable option.

  5. Ensuring regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C as this helps in better absorption of iron. Sources of Vitamin C include 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 excessive weight loss due to unnecessary dieting & over-exercise. Also, excessive consumption of alcohol, tobacco, & 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, & collards are some of the best options for non-heme iron.

  9. Garden cress seeds are very high in Iron & 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. However, these are hot in potency, so consume in moderation.

  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.


Here are some iron-rich recipe ideas:

  • Spinach & Chickpea Salad
  • Quinoa & Black Bean Stir-Fry
  • Lentil Soup
  • Beef & Broccoli Stir-Fry
  • Salmon with Kale & Quinoa
  • Iron-Rich Smoothie (with spinach, banana, & almond butter)
  • Tofu & Spinach Curry
  • Iron-Boosting Oatmeal (with fortified oatmeal & dried fruits)
  • Turkey & Spinach Meatballs
  • Iron-Packed Trail Mix (with nuts, seeds, & dried fruits).

Remember to include a variety of iron-rich foods in your diet & consider pairing them with vitamin C-rich foods to enhance iron absorption.


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