Anemia describes a condition in which red blood cells are less able to carry oxygen around the body. There are several different types of anemia, caused either by a deficiency of one or more nutrients such as iron, vitamin B-12 or folate (also known as folic acid); by a genetic blood disorder called sickle cell anemia; or by an underlying malady such as kidney disease. Common symptoms include fatigue, dizziness and breathlessness. Absorption of iron and folic acid can be affected by the foods you eat, so certain foods should be avoided with these types of anemia.
Tannins are naturally occurring substances found in many plant-based foods, and they are what give these foods an astringent taste. They are found in black, green and rooibos tea; coffee; grapes and wine; sorghum and corn. They can interfere with nonheme iron absorption from plant sources such as beans, legumes, spinach and other dark-green leafy vegetables. If you are suffering from iron-deficiency anemia, foods with tannins should be avoided.
Be Aware of Gluten
Gluten allergy as seen in celiac disease can cause damage to the intestinal wall, preventing nutrients like folate and iron from being properly absorbed. If left untreated, this malabsorption can lead to anemia. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye, oats and foods made from these grains. Gluten should only be avoided, however, if you are allergic to it.
Know Your Phytates
Phytates, or phytic acid, is generally found in foods with high fiber content such as whole-grain wheat, legumes, nuts and brown rice. Refined versions of these foods such as white rice or white flour have had the bran removed and therefore contain less phytic acid. Phytates bind with iron in the digestive system, inhibiting its absorption.
Other Dietary Interactions
Calcium can interfere with iron absorption, so consuming calcium-containing foods with iron-containing foods will affect how much iron you absorb. For this reason, it is best to have calcium-containing foods at different times from sources of iron. For example, beef, beans and lentils shouldn't be eaten with milk, cheese and yogurt. Zinc is necessary for folate to be absorbed properly, so obtaining adequate folate in your diet is essential with folate-related anemia. Good sources include oysters, liver, meat, eggs and legumes. Vitamin C helps convert the nonheme iron in vegetables into a usable form, so consuming foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruit juice, asparagus and bell peppers, with nonheme iron will aid absorption. Finally, long-term alcohol intake can inhibit folate absorption and the proper functioning of iron, so reducing or avoiding alcohol intake can improve both these types of anemia.
- WomensHealth.gov: Anemia Factsheet
- Cornell University Department of Animal Science: Tannins: Fascinating But Sometimes Dangerous Molecules
- Alcohol Health & Research World: The Hematological Complications of Alcoholism
- Theraputic Advances in Gastroenterology: Diagnosis and Management of Iron Deficiency Anemia in the 21st Century
- Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology: Wheat Fiber, Phytates and Iron Absorption
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Phytates and the Inhibitory Effect of Bran on Iron Absorption in Man
- NHS Choices: Anaemia, Vitamin B12 or Folate Deficiency - Cause
- Linus Pauling Institute: Micornutrient Information Center - Zinc