Having a vegan lifestyle has several health benefits. Mostly due to the influx of micronutrients that we can find so abundantly in plants, the other part is due to the avoidance components such as cholesterol, trans and saturated fats, found in animals. However though we still found them in plants, some nutrients such as iron are a little harder to fund in a vegan diet. Anemia is a common diagnosis suffered by vegans and results from an iron deficiency if they d not pay enough attention. Not all vegans are anemic, but it will be better to know the basics to avoid it in the future. Here are a few pointers to know about the vegan diet and anemia.
What is anemia?
Anemia is a blood disorder where individuals do not have enough red blood cells (or damaged red blood cells) to transport a sufficient amount of oxygen in the bloodstream to all the body’s tissues. The symptoms can range from fatigue or paleness while more severe symptoms include shortness of breath, dizziness, and brittle nails and hair.
What causes anemia?
The most common cause of anemia is iron deficiency, but it is not the only trigger. Heavy menstrual cycles in women, B12 deficiency and some inflammatory and chronic diseases can also cause anemia. While you can’t control some of the rare triggers, you can take charge of your iron and B12 intake.
Here’s why these two nutrients affect your blood oxygen levels.
Iron is the most important component of hemoglobin which is a protein found in red blood cells that is crucial for the transport of oxygen from your lungs to the rest of the body. Iron also supports the proper function of the cells, regulates the production of hormones, and in general terms, it strengthens our body’s metabolism. Without enough iron, our body won’t produce enough red blood cells to transport oxygen our bodies which will result in fatigue. The recommended intake of iron for most adults is 8 milligrams for men and 18 milligrams for women.
There are two types of iron—heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found in animal-based sources. Heme iron is more easily absorbable than non-heme iron, which is found in both plant and animal foods. Naturally, vegans tend to lack heme iron, though they can still obtain adequate amounts while consuming non-heme iron foods. Five hundred milligrams of vitamin C consumed in the same meal can greatly increase iron absorption, according to researchers at Harvard T School of Public Health.
Vitamin B12 is as important as iron in the production of red blood cells and the transport of oxygen within the bloodstream. Vitamin B12 is the one supplement every vegan (and person) should take regularly, as this nutrient is very difficult to find in a vegan diet. Yeast is the only vegan food that naturally contains vitamin B12. The amount needed by our bodies is 2.4 micrograms per day, but if you take in a supplement of 500 micrograms it does no harm.
Top 5 foods to get iron on a plant-based diet
1.Legumes and Beans
Legumes are high in protein content, but they’re also rich in iron. Legumes such as beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, and soybeans can help you reach your daily iron quota. One cup of lentils and/or tofu contains around 6.6 grams of iron each. Kidney and lima beans are the two highest sources of iron when it comes to beans with 5.2 milligrams and 4.5 milligrams per cup, respectively.
Not in vain Quinoa is considered a superfood. This grain contains 4 gr. of iron per one half cup dry serving. When battling anemia, a bowl for this iron-rich vegan food will help to solve the issue.
3. Blackstrap molasses
This thick syrup is extremely high in iron, with 7.2 milligrams per two-tablespoon serving. We need to look only for the calory intake but is good to incorporate into our everyday diet.
4. Nuts and seeds
Yes, nut butter or past counts, too. Reach for pistachios, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds which all contain between 1-2.7 milligrams of iron per one-ounce serving.
5. Leafy greens
Leafy greens are true nutritional powerhouses. Swiss chard is particularly high in iron—about for milligrams per one cup, cooked. Spinach also contains a substantial amount of iron, but it’s not easily absorbed by the body. Other greens such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, Mizuna, and Kale are good options too.