Anaemia occurs when the blood has a decreased number of red blood cells. The most common symptom of anaemia is fatigue. Other signs and symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Coldness in the hands and feet
- Pale skin
- Chest pain
- Arrhythmias (irregular heart beat)
About 50% of anaemias are a result of insufficient iron in the body (iron deficiency), but this varies among population groups and in different areas.
According to New York Nutrition Group’s Lisa Moskovitz, "It's important to ensure you consume enough iron-rich foods, especially if you're at risk of or have been diagnosed with iron-deficiency anaemia. Just increasing the consumption of iron in your diet can help better transport oxygen in your blood to correct the condition."
If you suspect you are anaemic, it’s a good idea to see your doctor who can run some tests to diagnose you properly. Moskovitz says, "Iron supplements are only necessary if you are diagnosed with iron deficiency or iron-deficiency anaemia. They should not be taken otherwise, and you should always ask your doctor before taking any kind of supplement."
Although your body is able to store iron, it cannot make it, which means you need to get it from food or supplements. Here are five iron-rich foods that you can add to your diet.
1. Lean chicken breasts
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that the body absorbs two to three times more iron from animal sources than it does from plants.
According to celebrity nutritionist Isabel Smith, a lean-cut white meat like chicken is a top food for anaemia if you're able to consume haeme protein from animals.
2. Lean red meats
To get at least 22% of your recommended daily intake of iron, add lean red meat to your diet. Moskovitz says to maximise the iron absorption, eat meat with foods that are rich in vitamin C, such as tomatoes, red peppers, strawberries, oranges, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.
3. Dark leafy greens
“There are two types of iron: Haeme iron from animal sources and non-haeme iron from plant sources,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, author of Eating in Color: Delicious, Healthy Recipes for You and Your Family. If you rely on non-haeme iron, you will need to increase your serving sizes to make sure you are getting enough.
Good sources of iron are raw and cooked spinach. However, cooking spinach will help your body better absorb the nutrients it offers. A cup of cooked spinach has about 6mg of iron, as well as protein, fibre, calcium, and vitamins A and E. Although spinach is not always a favourite, especially among kids, it's easy to sneak into recipes. “I love using sautéed spinach in vegetable lasagna,” says Largeman-Roth. “It also works well in mini frittatas, which my kids love.”
4. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are great to snack on as they contain healthy fats and protein. Moskovitz says that pumpkin seeds and pistachios are rich in iron and great to snack on. In fact, about 28g (that's about 49 nuts) of pistachios will provide you with 6.1% of your daily requirement.
Soybeans, red kidney beans and chickpeas are all rich in iron, folate and vitamin C. Lentils are a versatile legume – they are delicious as a side-dish ingredient or as part of a meat-free main meal. One cup of cooked lentils is packed with 7mg of iron, 16g of fibre and 18g of protein.
How to improve iron absorption from food
Aiming to eat iron-rich food is a great start, but how you prepare food and what you eat together can affect iron absorption.
Foods rich in vitamin C (for example oranges, tomatoes, berries, kiwi fruit and capsicum) can help you absorb more iron if you eat them at the same time as iron-rich foods. You can eat them raw, drink a glass of orange juice with your meal or take a supplement.
Coffee, tea and wine, on the other hand, reduce iron absorption. You also want to avoid calcium-rich foods, such as milk, cheese and tinned salmon, and calcium tablet – have these between meals instead of with your meal. Image credit: iStock