Anemia is one of the most prevalent nutritional deficiencies worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, more than 25 percent of the world's population suffers from some form of anemia. If you eat a diet of highly processed foods, lack a balanced nutrient intake in your diet or have certain health conditions, you may be at risk for developing anemia. Eating a well-balanced, whole-food-based diet is the best way to prevent or combat anemia.
When you're anemic, your blood lacks red blood cells. The condition also occurs if your red blood cells lack hemoglobin at their center. Oxygen is transported from your lungs to your cells by the hemoglobin molecule. The lack of oxygen caused by anemia may make you feel tired, weak or dizzy or lead to shortness of breath or headaches. If anemia is severe or prolonged, you may experience damage to your heart, brain or other organs, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
A lack of the mineral iron in your diet is the most common cause of anemia. The formation of red blood cells and hemoglobin requires iron. Without enough, your red blood cells may be too small, or there might not be enough of them in your body. You get an easily absorbed form of iron called heme iron from many animal proteins such as beef, turkey, tuna, pork, chicken, seafood and eggs. Vegetarian foods, such as beans, dark green leafy vegetables and fortified breakfast cereals and bread, contain nonheme iron, which is somewhat harder for your body to absorb. Consuming a source of vitamin C along with iron, however, enhances its absorption. Women over the age of 50 and all men need at least 8 milligrams of iron per day, while women under the age of 50 require at least 18 milligrams per day.
Lack of Folic Acid
If your diet lacks the B vitamin folic acid, you may develop anemia as well. This is called megaloblastic anemia and is characterized by large, misshapen and underdeveloped red blood cells. In addition to traditional anemia symptoms, you may develop pale skin, decreased appetite, irritability and diarrhea with megaloblastic anemia. People who drink alcohol regularly; have a digestive system condition, such as celiac disease; or are pregnant have an increased need for folic acid and may be at risk for anemia, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. To prevent this type of anemia, eat plenty of folic acid, which is found in green leafy vegetables, fruits, grains, yeast and meats.
Inadequate B-12 Intake
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, you may also develop a form of megaloblastic anemia, called pernicious anemia, if your diet lacks vitamin B-12. To get more B-12, increase your intake of eggs, meat, poultry, milk, shellfish and fortified breakfast cereals. Your body may have difficulty absorbing B-12 if you lack certain digestive enzymes in the stomach, have had surgery to your digestive tract or have an autoimmune condition, such as type-1 diabetes. In some cases, your health care provider may suggest a B-12 injection to combat pernicious anemia.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute notes that vitamin C, riboflavin and copper are also required in small amounts for proper red blood cell production. You get dietary riboflavin from consuming eggs, milk, nuts and fortified cereals. Vitamin C is found in fresh fruits and vegetables, such as oranges, bell peppers, leafy green vegetables and broccoli. You get the mineral copper from shellfish, seafood, nuts, seeds and soybeans. A lack of any of these nutrients in your diet may increase your risk for developing anemia.
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: What is Anemia?
- MedlinePlus: Iron Deficiency Anemia
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Iron
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: Anemia of Folate Deficiency
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: Anemia of B12 Deficiency (Pernicious Anemia)
- National University Hospital: Vitamins and Minerals Chart
- World Health Organization: Worldwide Prevalence of Anaemia 1993-2005