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Anemia is a serious health consideration, especially for women who are planning to have a baby. To understand how anemia may impact expecting women and their offspring, we spoke to Dr Meghana Pasi, a Nutrition expert with Aarogya World’s My Thali Program.
Dr Pasi explains that the condition of having a lower than normal level of hemoglobin, or reduced number of red blood cells is known as anemia. She adds that one of the most common types of anemia is caused by iron deficiency, which may happen if you don’t get enough iron from the food you eat, or if your body is not able to absorb adequate amounts of iron.
Regarding the signs of anemia, as per Dr Pasi, while mild iron deficiency could go unnoticed, intense symptoms such as lethargy and compromised immunity can indicate the presence of anemia. It can occur at all stages of life but is more prevalent in pregnant women and young girls.
As per Dr Pasi, anemia during adolescence can impair sexual and reproductive development and menstruation. In a pregnant woman, it increases the risk of premature birth, low birth weight infant, and postpartum depression. In fact, severe anemia also increases the risk of maternal mortality.
Dr Pasi emphasised the importance of iron, and how it is needed for hemoglobin synthesis (a protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen to your tissues), mental function and to provide immunity against diseases.
Dr Pasi mentioned that there are several factors that can cause Iron deficiency, such as inadequate intake of iron in your diet, low bioavailability of dietary iron from plant foods due to inhibitory factors, and low levels of absorption enhancers in the diet. She added that factors such as parasitic infestations, chronic blood loss, malaria or hookworm infestation, and heavy or chronic bleeding could also cause iron deficiency.
Soreness of the mouth, with cracks at the corners, dizziness, tiredness, fatigue and low energy are a few common signs. Dr Pasi stated that unusually rapid heartbeat, particularly with exercise, shortness of breath and frequent headaches, cramps, lack of focus, cold hands and feet, brittle nails, and inflammation or soreness of your tongue are also symptoms of iron deficiency, indicating anemia.
1. Green leafy vegetables
Coriander leaves, curry leaves, mint leaves, amaranth green, beet greens, fenugreek, pumpkin leaves, spinach, onion stalk, and cluster beans are rich sources of iron (3-9mg/100gm). She recommends having at least 100gms of these green veggies every day.
2. Pulses and beans
Bengal gram, horse gram, and rajma are also good sources of iron (5.5-9mg/100gm).
3. Dry fruits, nuts and seeds
Raisins, apricots, black currants, dates, sesame seeds, garden cress seeds and sunflower seeds also provide a good amount of iron (2-15mg/100gms), and folate (helps in iron absorption). Meghan suggests having a handful of seeds and nuts during snack time every day.
4. Animal sources
The liver of chicken, pork and beef have the highest amount of heme Iron. Egg eaters can also rejoice, as egg yolk contains 3-4mg iron.
These foods should be rich in vitamin C, B12 and folate. Citrus fruits like amla, guava, ziziphus, raw mango, orange, papaya, strawberry are good sources of these nutrients. Vegetables like amaranth leaves, drumstick leaves, capsicum, radish, fenugreek leaves, and cabbage can also help increase iron absorption. Chicken and fish, when eaten with green vegetables, are also beneficial to increase iron absorption. So are fermented vegetables and fermented soy sauces.
Tip 2: There are a few compounds and anti-nutrients that inhibit iron absorption. Try not to combine foods containing these compounds with your iron-rich food sources.
These compounds and anti-nutrients include phytates and other inositol phosphates (e.g. bran products, breakfast cereals, oats, rice [especially unpolished rice], pasta products, cocoa, nuts). Iron-binding phenolic compounds (e.g. tea, coffee, cocoa) should not be combined with spinach based dishes. Calcium (e.g. milk, cheese) and soy proteins are also prominent examples.
These foods must be consumed keeping a gap of a few hours or with other meals/dishes.
So ladies, be mindful of any signs of anemia, as it can impact both your and the child’s health.