If you take a closer look at your packed kitchen, you will realise that it lacks iron-rich foods. When it comes to eating healthy or losing weight, we are always focused on protein that we overlook the nutrients that our bodies require. Iron is one of the most vital minerals that our bodies require for growth and development. Inadequate iron levels in the body can have serious consequences, especially in women. When iron levels are low, exhaustion and weakness become frequent companions, making even ordinary chores feel daunting.
To know everything about iron deficiency and how you can replenish it, we reached out to Dr Meghana Pasi, Nutrition Consultant, MyThali Arogya World based in Bengaluru.
What Is Anaemia?
According to Dr Pasi, “The condition of having a lower-than-normal level of haemoglobin or less number of red blood cells is known as anaemia.” She also mentioned that iron deficiency is one of the most common causes of anaemia. Iron deficiency anaemia (IDA) is a major public health concern in India.
The prevalence of anaemia as per NFHS-5 (2019-21):
● 25% in men (15-49 years) vs. 57% in women
● 31% in boys (15-19 yrs) vs. 59% in girls
● 52% of pregnant women (15-49 years) and
● 67% in children (6-59 months).
Dr Pasi said that the deficiency is most prevalent among women and adolescent girls due to loss of blood during menstruation and increased requirements during pregnancy. “If iron needs are not met during pregnancy, then it can increase the risk of premature birth, low birth weight infant and postpartum depression,” she warned.
Also Read: What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Iron Deficiency (Anemia)?
Iron is necessary for the production of haemoglobin. Dr Pasi stated that our red blood cells cannot transfer oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our bodies without haemoglobin.
Factors That Cause Iron Deficiency
Dr Pasi listed some factors that cause iron deficiency:
● Inadequate intake of iron in the diet
● Low bioavailability of dietary iron from plant foods due to inhibitory factors
● Low levels of absorption enhancers in the diet
● Increased needs during pregnancy
● Parasitic infestations
● Chronic blood loss
● Diseases like malaria or hook-worm infestation
Iron Deficiency: Signs And Symptoms
Watch out for these signs and symptoms as listed by Dr Palsi:
● Pale skin (check palms, nails, tongue and eyes)
● Soreness of the mouth and tongue, with cracks at the corners
● Dizziness, tiredness, fatigue and low energy
● Unusually rapid heartbeat, particularly with exercise
● Difficulty/ inability to concentrate
● Leg cramps
● Lowered resistance to infections
● Cold hands and feet, brittle nails
Dr Pasi said that the requirements of iron are more in women compared to men: women require 15mg of iron/per day, pregnant women need 21mg and adolescent girls require 16-18mg/per day.
Tips To Increase Iron Stores In The Body
According to Dr Pasi, “Iron is classified into two types: heme iron and non-heme iron.” Heme iron, which may be found in meat, chicken, eggs, and other animal products, is effectively absorbed by the body, whereas non-heme iron, which can be found in plant-based iron-rich diets, is not, she added.
Also Read: Iron Deficiency: Consequences To Know
Expert Recommended Foods To Include In Your Diet
● Green Vegetables
Iron is abundant in coriander leaves, curry leaves, mint leaves, amaranth green, beetroot greens, fenugreek, pumpkin leaves, spinach, onion stem and cluster beans (3-9mg/100g). Consume at least 100 gms of these greens daily.
Bengal gram, horse gram, and rajma are also good sources of iron (5.5-9mg/100gm).
● Dry Fruits
Sesame seeds, garden cress seeds, raisins, apricots, black currants, dates, sunflower seeds, and garden cress seeds also contain a healthy amount of iron (between 2 and 15 mg per 100 gms) and folate, which aids in the absorption of iron.
● Animal Food Sources
Chicken Liver, pork and beef have the highest amount of heme Iron. For those who eat only eggs, egg yolk contains 3-4mg of iron.
● Other Sources
Quinoa, tofu, amaranth, whole grains, soybean and dark chocolate.
As non-heme iron found in vegetarian sources is not well absorbed, include these foods to increase iron absorption:
● Vit C, vit-B12 and folate help in iron absorption. Include citrus fruits like amla, guava, ziziphus, raw mango, orange, papaya, and strawberry; vegetables like amaranth leaves, drumstick leaves, capsicum, radish, fenugreek leaves, cabbage to your diet.
● Soak, sprout and ferment grains and legumes: these processes can improve iron absorption by lowering the number of phytates (anti-nutrients) naturally present in these foods.
Expert advised not to combine foods containing the following compounds with your iron-rich food sources.
Tea And Coffee
Tannins found in tea and coffee bind with iron and reduce its absorption. Hence, avoid tea with methi/palak paratha.
Foods Containing Phytates
Soya, legumes, and nuts contain phytates or phytic acid which reduces iron absorption. Hence, soak them for a few hours in water to remove the phytates and then consume them.
Calcium-rich foods like milk hinder iron absorption and hence should be avoided with meals which contain iron. Even calcium supplements should not be taken with iron supplements.
[Disclaimer: The information in this article is provided by a registered medical practitioner. However, we recommend you consult your healthcare provider for accurate diagnosis and treatment.]
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