Iron Food/Supplement for Anemia

Wednesday, 25 December 2013
Anemia is a condition in which blood has a lower than normal number of red blood cells. The signs of iron deficiency anemia include decreased immune system, difficult in maintaining body temperature, slow cognitive development, feeling tired and inflamed tongue. The reasons of low iron are low intake of iron rich food, pregnancy, large blood loss due to menstruation, blood or bone marrow donation, surgery or other related diseases. 

The health care professional may do blood test to measure the hemoglobin level in body. If the level is low and suspected to have iron deficiency, the medical officers may prescribe iron supplements. Or else, dietitians will determine either the iron deficiency is due to diet in low iron or not. If yes, dietitians will suggest to eat more iron rich food either from heme or non-heme iron sources. Heme iron is found in animal products that contained hemoglobin such as fish, meats and poultry. While non-heme iron can be found in plant based. Heme iron is absorbed better than non-heme iron.

According to Recommended Nutrient Intakes (RNI) for Malaysia, men 19 years old and above need 14mg/day for 10% bioavailability and 9mg/day for 15% bioavailability. For 19 years old premenopause women need 29mg/day for 10% bioavailability and 20mg/day for 15% bioavailability. And for postmenopause women need 11mg/day for 10% bioavailability and 8mg/day for 15% bioavailability.

Here are the examples of non-heme iron of plant sources with more than 3.5mg of iron; ¼ cup of tofu, ¾ cup of lentils, 1 cup of fortified whole grain, ¼ cup of dry pumpkin seeds, 1 cup of cornmeal and 1 cup of buckwheat. The good sources of non-heme iron with less than 3.5mg of iron are ½ cup of spinach, 1 medium potato, ¼ cup of tempeh, 1 cup of barley, 1 cup of brown rice, ½ cup of prune juice and 1 cup of chopped broccoli. Do not depend too much on heme iron sources because there are many non-heme iron food that also helps in increasing the iron level in body.

Vitamin C helps the body to absorb non-heme iron efficiently when they are eaten at the same meal. Some sources of vitamin C include grapefruit, red or green peppers, strawberries, orange, tomato and cabbages. To make it easy, just take rich iron sources with high vitamin C juice such as orange or mango juice. Tea and coffee are the drinks that may decrease the iron absorption. People who suffer anemia can have tea and coffee, but at least one hour before or after having iron rich meal. Same goes to calcium supplement, take it at least 2 hours before or after taking iron rich meal. It is because calcium may reduce the absorption of iron.

Be careful when taking iron supplement because it may cause constipation. So, drink a plenty of water to avoid this to happen. To increase the absorption of iron supplement, take it with an empty stomach. If the iron supplement may upset the stomach, take it with meals. Iron supplement also may cause mild stomach upset and stool darkening. It is may be due to high doses of iron or toxic effects. If severe side effects present, meet medical officers immediately. They may reduce the dose or the number of times per day the supplement is taken. See the dietitians to get more information about food for anemia and supplements that interact with rich iron food. Trust me, they will help you.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Hamilton Health Sciences

Recommended Nutrient Intake Malaysia (RNI)

Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health


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