Anemia Risk for Vegetarian – Myths, Truths & Things to do

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Anemia is a condition that takes place when the body has a low count of RBCs (red Blood cells). These RBCs contain hemoglobin which binds the oxygen with the blood. With the decreased number of Red blood cells, the capacity of the blood to carry oxygen to all parts of the body also reduces. Since oxygen is essential for the proper functioning of all the parts of the body, anemia affects the overall performance of a person. It is the most common blood disorder suffered by the general population.

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There are various types of Anemia. The most popular being iron deficiency anemia. Iron is significantly essential for human metabolism. The low iron intake or inadequate presence of iron in the body that may be due to poor absorption or excessive loss of iron from the body shall reduce the level of hemoglobin which will further affect the blood’s ability to supply oxygen to all organs of the body. A large part of iron is stored in liver, spleen and bone marrow. An iron deficiency does not occur easily as the body is very economic with the iron reserves whenever there is a deficiency.

There are three stages of iron deficiency-

Stage 1- Iron exhausted but no symptoms shown

Stage2- Latent iron deficiency along with decreased performance level

Stage3- Anemia i.e. insufficient red blood pigment in red corpuscles

Iron is available in two forms- Heme and Nonheme. Animal meat contains 40% of heme iron which is well absorbed by the body. However, 60% of the iron in animal tissue and plants comprises of non-heme iron which is less absorbed by the body. It is to be noted that the plants (vegetables, fruits, and nuts) contain only non-heme iron. This is the very reason, which makes many of us believe that anemia is more common among vegetarians than nonvegetarians.  However, this is not the case.

Myths and Truths

It is true that the iron storage in vegetarians is less than the iron storage in non-vegetarians. But does this statement prove the generally accepted belief that vegetarians are more prone to anemia than the non-vegetarians? No, it does not. According to the hematologists, the iron deficiency anemia is no more common among vegans than among the general population.

Vegetarians do not eat meat, egg, fish which are the sources of high iron and Vitamin B12 and are needed to make healthy red blood cells. Their reason for not eating meat may be ethical, religious, health, economical or combination of these. However, they can easily compensate their lower iron intake by taking a balanced diet.  Many vegetables with rich iron and vitamin C can do wonders and can actually provide an edge over the non-vegetarian food items. Vitamin C increases the absorption of nonheme iron six folds making it equivalent or better than the heme iron present in meat.

Ironically, dairy products like milk and eggs provide no iron and can block the iron absorption in the body. Also, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pulses, dark green leafy vegetables, beans are some of the foods which are high in iron than the meat is. Vegetables such broccoli and bok choy are high in iron and vitamin C, which leads to increased absorption of iron in the body.

Additionally, there are many other reasons apart from the iron deficiency that may lead to anemia and has nothing to do with your diet preferences. Some of these are as follows-

  1. Increased demand for iron during-
  • Pregnancy for foetal growth and breastfeeding.
  • Heavy menstruation leading to excessive loss of blood.
  • Rapid Growth spurts in children during infancy and adolescence require sufficient iron for the overall development of the body.
  1. Medications and antibiotics – Certain medicines may lead to iron deficiency like warfarin causing gastrointestinal bleeding, aspirin, etc. 
  1. Viral infections such as hepatitis and HIV cause anemia.
  2. Exposure to toxic chemicals such as harmful pesticides and insecticides. 
  1. Genetic Disorder due to genetic mutation or absence of certain key gene fragments; abnormally shaped RBCs.
  2. Slow, chronic blood loss from peptic ulcer, angiodysplasia, a colon polyp or gastrointestinal cancer

What should you do?

Consuming Iron-Rich food

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Serve yourself with iron rich food. Beans, dark leafy vegetables like spinach, peas, dry fruits like raisins and apricots, peas, iron-fortified pulses and broccoli are going to shower plenty of iron for your body.  These food items are rich sources of iron and you can easily consume them daily. There are many more iron rich food options for vegetarians. You may not need to worry about your iron diet being a vegan. Along with natural food one can also go along with iron supplements as suggested by your doctor.

Relishing Vitamin C

You can fill your plate with all your favorite fruits for they are rich in Vitamin C. Orange, grapes, strawberries, guava and kiwi would provide you sufficient Vitamin C which will help your body to absorb the iron efficiently. Brussel sprouts, kale, red and green pepper are some of the more vitamin C rich options that you may like to go for.

Treating yourself with Vitamin B12

Your body needs B12 to make proper red blood cells that carry hemoglobin in your body. Deficiency of Vitamin B may lead to abnormally shaped RBCs which are ineffective in their functioning, causing anemia. You can rely on milk, cheese, yogurt, rice and soy beverages, breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast for vitamin B12. These food items would be a healthy and tasty choice for the intake of vitamin B12.

Bless yourself with these healthy options and do away with anemia. You can perfectly keep your beliefs and choices intact while you aim to live a salubrious life.

In conclusion, we can say that the various causes of anemia which are irrespective of one’s choice of dietary intake are hard to ignore. So if you are a vegetarian and you have been dubious all this while about the benefits of your vegetarian diet, it is time to cheer up. You are in no way more probable than your non-vegan friends of developing Anemia with a proper healthy green diet.

Enjoy. Treat yourself to a good green meal today!

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