What is anemia?
The body requires a certain level of red blood cells so that tissues are getting enough oxygen in circulation. Many people suffer from anemia, a condition in which there is a lack of healthy blood cells in the body, leading to poor oxygen circulation.
According to one study conducted over a 10-year period, 5.6% of Americans have anemia and 1.5% have moderate to severe anemia.
There are several forms of anemia, including the most common, iron deficiency anemia. Another study found that 2% of adult men have iron deficiency anemia, 9% to 12% of non-Hispanic white women experience it, and almost 20% of black and Mexican-American women have it.
If you have anemia, focusing on your diet can help you manage symptoms and increase your iron levels. But which foods are best to consume and which should you avoid? First, it’s important to define what anemia is before diving into dietary considerations.
Anemia occurs when the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells, or the cells are not functioning as they should be. The body requires regular, healthy oxygen flow to organs and tissues, and without enough red blood cells, that process is disrupted.
The types of anemia are as follows:
Symptoms of anemia will vary, but common signs include:
All forms of anemia occur when there is a drop in red blood cell count. This issue may occur because the body doesn’t have enough hemoglobin, the hemoglobin isn’t functioning as it should be, the body doesn’t make enough red blood cells, or the red blood cells are broken down too quickly by the body.
For cases of iron deficiency anemia, blood loss is often the cause.
Who can get it?
It’s possible for anyone to develop anemia, though there are certain groups of people who more commonly have the condition. The common risk factors include:
Remedies for anemia
Eating a better diet can help treat iron-deficiency anemia. Some diets will help you maintain healthier levels of iron and other nutrients that improve the production of red blood cells and hemoglobin.
Focus on good foods for anemia like:
- Fish and other seafood
- Meats like beef, pork, lamb, liver, and other organ meats
- Whole-wheat bread and rolls that were leavened with yeast
- Iron-enriched white bread, pasta, and other carbs
- Legumes, including lima beans and peas
- Leafy greens, like spinach and kale
There are also certain foods you should avoid if you have anemia, particularly if you have an iron deficiency. These foods bind with iron and prevent your body from absorbing it:
- Bread made from high extraction flour
- Most red wines
- Bran products
- Pasta products
- Calcium-rich foods like milk and cheese
- Soy proteins
Over several months, iron supplements can help increase iron concentration levels in your blood. You should have them on an empty stomach with something rich in citrus, like orange juice, to help your body absorb the iron.
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Risks and outlook
If you’re taking supplements, be aware that they can irritate your stomach and discolor your bowel movements.
Depending on factors including your age and medical history, and the extent and cause of your anemia, you might need a doctor’s help to figure out a diet plan and stop any blood loss you may have.
However, making changes to your diet, including adding certain foods and eliminating others, can help your body better manage the condition and lessen symptoms. Make sure to focus on foods with high iron levels, like green vegetables, nuts, and red meat, and avoid coffee and gluten-heavy foods.
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American Family Physician: “Iron Deficiency Anemia.”
Food and Agriculture Organization: “Food-based approaches for combating iron deficiency.”
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Iron-Deficiency Anemia.”
PLoS One: “The Prevalence of Anemia and Moderate-Severe Anemia in the US Population (NHANES 2003-2012).”
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