Anemia in women is a major concern – Here's a list of foods to prevent it

By Dr. Shafalika SB, Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Columbia Asia Referral Hospital, Yeshwanthpur

Anemia continues to be the major public health hazard in India. Though this nutritional deficiency disorder can affect anyone but more prevalent in children, pregnant women, and women of childbearing age. In India, anemia is one of the major causes most of the maternal death. It is not only women and kids, men also get affected by anemia.
Anemia is a condition that develops when there is an iron deficiency or a lack of healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood. Lack of mineral iron in the blood is the common cause of this red blood cell disorder. Iron is needed to produce the protein hemoglobin that helps red blood cells carry oxygen, which is vital to make energy and carry out different functions.
What causes Anemia?
Mostly anaemia occurs due to an inadequate supply of nutrients like iron, folic acid, and vitamin B12, proteins, amino acids, vitamins A, C, and other vitamins of the B-complex group. Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia. Lack of vitamin B12 or a condition in which our body is not able to absorb vitamin B12, lack of folic acid or difficulty in absorbing folic acid, inherited blood disorders, blood loss due to hemorrhoids, ulcers, etc are the other causes for anemia. Diseases like HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, kidney disease, cancer, etc can also cause anemia.
Why is it a major concern for women?
Women are likely to develop anemia for several reasons. Menstruating women lose blood every month during their periods. Iron is needed to make new blood that can replace the lost blood during the monthly menstrual cycle. Women who have long periods and who experience heavy bleeding are at higher risk. It should also be noted that women need extra iron during pregnancy for the proper development of the baby. Pregnant women need 50 percent more blood than normal women. During childbirth, women lose blood. All these factors make anaemia a major concern for women. Similar to women, anemia can cause frequent health problems among men as well. Though male anemia does not affect the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition, it may impact the overall work performance and quality of life.

Food vs anemia

Lack of nutrition in the food is a major reason for anaemia in all age groups. Our food habits have changed and we mostly depend on the packaged processed food to reduce the cooking time. These foods are low in nutrition. Reduced consumption of green leafy vegetables and fruits high in nutrients also add to the problem. Although today there are multiple supplements available to make up for the iron deficiency, consuming only these supplements may not help to avoid anaemia. Supplementation of only iron and folic acid is inadequate to prevent or correct anaemia among adolescents. Other hemopoietic (blood-forming) nutrients are equally important in managing it. In addition to iron, there are other nutrients that prevent or reduce anaemia and these include vitamin B6, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, vitamin C, folate, and proteins. These nutrients are actively involved in the process of blood formation (hemopoiesis).
How to prevent and what foods to consume?
There are different types of anaemia- Iron deficiency anaemia, vitamin deficiency anaemia, Aplastic anaemia, Autoimmune hemolytic anaemia, Pernicious anaemia, and Sickle cell anaemia. Among all the above, iron deficiency anaemia is the most common type. There are some types of anaemia that cannot be prevented. But with proper diet women can certainly prevent or reduce the chances of iron deficiency anaemia and also vitamin deficient anemia.
Here's a list of vitamins and minerals that needs to be part of our diet Iron: Food like red meat, beans, lentils, leafy vegetables, iron-fortified cereals, and dried foods like raisins, apricots are rich in iron. These days we get iron-fortified cereals, bread, and pastas. Vitamin C and Vitamin B 12: Diary products, meat, soy, fortified cereals are rich in vitamin B12. Citrus fruits like orange, grapefruit, and tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries are rich in vitamin C.
Folate: There are many foods that are rich in the nutrient folate and its synthetic form folic acid. Green peas, kidney beans, peanuts, dark green leafy vegetables, asparagus, avocado, lettuce, sweet corn, and citrus fruits are some folate-rich foods. Anemia usually goes unnoticed unless there are any serious health issues. It is mostly recognized in women during their pregnancy tests or other screenings but is overlooked among men. Therefore, it is the responsibility of everyone to think about consuming nutritious food to prevent anemia related to iron or vitamin deficiency.

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