We all know the importance of iron for improving the strength, growth and functioning of our body. It is the most essential nutrient present in our blood stream that is responsible for production of blood cells, hence a cautious approach is to be followed to ensure there is never an iron deficiency in our body.
But what is iron deficiency and how to improve iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency is a condition, wherein the levels of the body's iron stores go down significantly and show up in symptoms such as lethargy, tiredness, sore muscles, lack of energy and balance, pale skin among a few others.
Since iron isn't produced naturally by the body and needs to be replenished through our diet, any shortfall in our diet can cause iron deficiency. This condition is more common in children and menstruating or pregnant women. Iron supplements should be the last resort if one is not able to absorb the iron from his diet.
Iron deficiency can lead to many complications if not treated for a long time. Iron deficiency diseases include anemia, impaired body growth, abnormal hormonal functions, etc.
Iron deficiency treatment through diet
Iron is found abundantly in poultry and animal products such as milk, cheese, eggs, meat, fish, etc. For this reason, non-vegetarians seldom fall short of iron intake as they consume these foods which are heme-iron sources, easily absorbed in the body.
But a problem arises for vegetarians and vegans who do not eat or give up eating meat and animal products for many reasons.
For vegetarians who eliminate meat, anemia can be due to an iron deficiency. For vegans, who give up all animal products including dairy, eggs, and even honey, anemia can also be caused by vitamin B12 deficiency.
But does it mean that there is no hope for the vegetarians and vegans to fulfill their requirement through diet?
No, there definitely is! The answer lies in eating a carefully balanced diet — by getting needed iron and B12 from other food sources, rich in non-heme iron or plant based iron. This way they will be able to stay committed to a vegetarian or vegan diet and also prevent anemia.
Some of the foods that vegetarians and vegans can eat to increase iron in their diet are:
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Blackstrap molasses
- Green leafy vegetables
- Dried beans, such as black and kidney beans, and lentils
- Whole grains
- Enriched rice or pasta
- Pumpkin seeds
- Prune juice
- Dried fruit, especially raisins
These are the sources of non-heme iron which, though available to the body, is not as easily absorbed and used as heme iron. Therefore, it is a good idea to combine these iron-rich foods with foods high in vitamin C because C helps the body use iron efficiently.
For example, topping your spinach salad with grapefruit or lemon juice, or drinking a glass of orange juice as you dig into your fortified cereal in the morning are some of the ways to combine Vit C and Iron.
Foods to take to prevent Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anemia
Known as pernicious anemia, this type of anemia occurs due to a lack of vitamin B12 in the diet. This B vitamin plays an important role in making red blood cells in coordination with iron. Some processed foods that the vegetarians can opt for VIt B12 are:
- Fortified rice or soy milk
- Fortified cereal or grain products
- Some meat substitutes (check the labels for vitamin B12)
- Nutritional yeast
Whatever your reasons for choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet, always maintain a healthy balance that includes enough iron and vitamin B12 to keep off anemia and leave you with plenty of energy.