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Foods to Avoid With Anemia

author image Jo Travers
Jo Travers is a dietitian registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. She holds a Bachelor of Science in human nutrition and dietetics from London Metropolitan University. Travers' experience in the field includes time working across three London National Health Service Trusts and more than four years in private practice.
Foods to Avoid With Anemia
Anemia is a blood condition that affects red blood cells. Photo Credit: jqbaker/iStock/Getty Images

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.

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Avoid Tannins

Grapes contain tannins.
Grapes contain tannins. Photo Credit: Andy Dean/iStock/Getty Images

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

Grains such as wheat and barley contain gluten.
Grains such as wheat and barley contain gluten. Photo Credit: Dmitri Mihhailov/iStock/Getty Images

For those diagnosed with celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune disorder, eating gluten could damage 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. You only need to avoid gluten, though, if you have been diagnosed with celiac or have an allergy or insensitivity to the protein.

Know Your Phytates

The husk of brown rice contains phytic acid.
The husk of brown rice contains phytic acid. Photo Credit: Robert Anthony/iStock/Getty Images

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.
Calcium can interfere with iron absorption. Photo Credit: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images

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.

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