This week we want to go a little bit more in depth on a specific issue that some new vegetarians and vegans tend to have a problem with. Keeping your diet diverse in vitamins and minerals is important, even if you’re not embracing a plant based lifestyle, and a deficiency in just one of these can cause some pretty scary effects. One that is fairly common that is super easy to treat is anemia.
First of all, it was my understanding for the longest time that anemia was actually an iron deficiency, but of course I had no idea what I was even thinking. Hind sight is always 20/20, right? Anywho… the reality of anemia is that iron deficiency is only one of the things that can ultimately lead to anemia. The condition is actually caused by a lack of healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. Both of these situations reduce the oxygen getting circulated throughout your body.Without these essential oxygen distributors we can be drowning even though we’re sitting at our kitchen table. This reduction in oxygen flow caused by abnormal or damaged red blood cells and or weak hemoglobin is actually what anemia is.
So, when I tell you that one major symptom of anemia is fatigue, then the lack of oxygen distribution makes more sense. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on the case, most of the telling symptoms are case specific to many of the different types of anemia, which helps identify exactly what needs to change in your lifestyle. However, there is a core set of symptoms that typically lend themselves to a diagnosis of anemia, which are fatigue (obviously), high heartrate, shortness of breath or headaches when physically active that is not typical for you, problems concentrating, dizziness, leg cramps, and insomnia. Anemia also has a huge resume when it comes to causes, about four hundred items long, so to keep it simple we’ll only be dealing with three common causes: blood loss, iron-deficiency and vitamin-deficiency.
Anemia via blood loss is a pretty simple beast. You have a problem with oxygen getting to your body because you lose it before it can get to where it needs to go. Menstruation and gastrointestinal conditions such as ulcers, hemorrhoids and gastritis, top the list here, which means that the anemia is a symptom of a bigger problem that needs to be dealt with first. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen can cause blood loss by agitating ulcers and gastritis as well, so watch out for that.
Iron-deficient anemia is very straight forward. Your body doesn’t have enough iron to use in the bone marrow to create healthy hemoglobin for red blood cells. This kind of anemia is simply a missing mineral from your diet, but could be brought on by extreme conditions like menstruation, pregnancy, digestive conditions or donating blood too frequently.
Vitamin B12 and folates are two items needed to construct healthy blood cells. In a lot of ways this kind of anemia is very similar to the iron-deficient variety in symptoms and causality. However there are a few diverging causes: intestinal parasites or diseases, alcohol abuse, HIV and some medications.
Treatment for most anemia is pretty simple and it’s one of our favorite things to do here at Let’s Veg About It.
"Eat more! But the catch is that you need to eat smart as well. You’ll need to eat foods that will help you produce healthy hemoglobin and replenish the red blood cell supply. "
Simply speaking there are a few super foods to do exactly this, but they need an activator to be absorbed effectively. Spinach is a go to leafy green for getting iron and restoring red blood cells, but sweet potatoes, tofu, nuts and beans (especially grape nuts and kidney beans) are all high in iron content. Vitamin C increases the absorption of the iron into your system, so make sure you are getting some of that too.
Finally, to help top off your red blood count, eat that iron rich food and get your vitamin C, but also get some copper (found in cherries and various nuts), folic acid (found in dark leafy greens, lentils, beans and nuts), and vitamin A (found in sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, sweet red peppers and fruits like apricots, grapefruit, watermelon, plums/prunes and cantaloupe) (3).
With this well-rounded diet, you can treat and beat the anemia you might be suffering from, but remember to check with a medical professional about your symptoms because anemia can be a symptom rather than a direct problem.