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Anemia and Whole Foods Plant-Based Diets

When I tell people I eat a whole-food plant-based diet, I often get a worried look from people. They will say "all the vegans I've ever known have been sickly. Aren't you worried about things like anemia?" Conventional wisdom believes that eating a whole-food plant-based diet could not possibly provide enough iron to prevent anemia. Anemia is a decrease in the body's red blood cell count or a decrease in hemoglobin caused by iron deficiency that leads to symptoms of fatigue, shortness of breath, poor concentration and weakness. There are two kinds of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is readily absorbable by the body and is mostly found in animal sources while non-heme iron is found in plants and to a lesser extent in animal sources.  Non-heme iron is less readily absorbed by the body. This would lead one to believe that getting your iron from non-heme sources would lead to anemia. However, quite the opposite is true. According to the book Finding Ultra by Rich Roll, the incidence of anemia in vegetarians and vegans is no higher than that of the general population. The reason for this may be that despite plants containing non-heme iron, plants, in general, have a higher concentration of iron compared to animal based sources. A person eating a well-rounded plant-based diet should have no issue with anemia. However there a few things one can do to ensure that they meet the RDA of 18 mg of iron a day.

Tips to ensure proper Iron levels:

1) Combine Iron intake with Vitamin C-Iron absorption can be increased six-fold by pairing it with Vitamin C so try blending a smoothie with red pepper, oranges or lemons (high in vitamin C) with spinach or other leafy greens (high in iron).
2) Avoid coffee and tea at mealtime-The tannins in coffee and tea decrease the body's ability to absorb iron by 50-60% so avoid these drinks and hour before and after mealtime.
3) Take a Vitamin B-12 supplements-Since a deficit in this Vitamin can also lead to anemia, avoid the issue by supplementing.

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