The word “healthy” is used very often in popular culture and has been attached to many concepts from special diets and fitness videos to cosmetic surgery for self-esteem enhancement. While these are all arguably related to health, let’s focus on diet and nutrition.
The majority of popular diets promote the drastic reduction or elimination of one or more food groups which may result in nutrient deficiencies, malnutrition, and other medical conditions.
Iron deficiency anemia is one of the most common nutrient deficiency conditions, and can easily be treated by making adjustments to your daily diet. This condition occurs when there is insufficient iron in the body, most times from inadequate intake of iron-rich foods, but may also result from blood loss, or an inability to absorb sufficient iron from foods eaten.
Importance of Iron
Iron produces hemoglobin, which is the part of the red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. When iron levels are low, less hemoglobin will be produced, and the body will get less oxygen. Consequently the most common signs and symptoms of iron deficiency anemia are fatigue (tiredness), shortness of breath, chest pains, paleness, dizziness, trouble concentrating, and grumpiness. More severe cases of this condition can result in heart problems, infections, and problems with growth and development in children.
Iron Rich Foods
Ensuring sufficient dietary iron means eating a variety of well-proportioned foods daily. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for iron depends on the individual’s age, sex and health conditions (e.g. pregnancy, surgical recovery patient). Generally, children aged 7 months to a year need about 11mg of daily dietary iron, ages 1 to 13, as well as adults over 51 years need about 8mg of daily dietary iron.
During adolescence and adulthood, female daily dietary iron requirements are greater than males; females aged 14 to 18 years require 15mg, and ages 19 to 50 years require 18mg, while their male counterparts require 11mg and 8mg respectively. This is because of the monthly blood loss during menstruation. A registered dietitian or nutritionist will be able to develop with you a structured meal plan with the accurate amount of dietary iron.
Heme and Non-Heme Iron
Dietary iron has two forms, heme and non-heme. Plants and iron-fortified foods contain only non-heme iron, while meats, seafood and poultry contain both heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron is easier absorbed in the body than non-heme iron. However the absorption of non-heme iron in the body is improved when taken with foods that are high in vitamin c such as citrus juice and fruits and melons.
Foods that are rich in non-heme iron include fortified breakfast cereals, white beans, dark chocolate, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables, potatoes baked in skin, soy beans and tofu. While beef liver, oysters cooked with moist heat, sardines with bones are some of the richest sources of heme iron.
So next time you go on a ‘health drive’, instead of attempting one of those unrealistic restrictive diets that are short-lived and leave you unsatisfied and sometimes even nutrient deficient, try to maintain a balanced diet by eating moderate proportions of a variety of foods. Your local markets and supermarkets will offer a wide selection of foods.
Consider this sample menu for a typical healthy adult below.
|Breakfast||1 medium orange|
|¾ cup fortified raisin bran flakes or whole grain cereal||18|
|1 cup fat-free or low-fat milk|
|1 slice whole wheat toast|
|1 teaspoon margarine|
|Mid-morning Snack||1 medium apple|
|Lunch||4 ounces tuna fish||5.3|
|1 medium baked potato with skin||2.8|
|1 tsp margarine|
|½ cup carrots||0.5|
|½ cup christophenes||0.45|
|1 cup fruit juice|
|Mid-afternoon Snack||1 small banana sliced|
|Dinner/ Supper||3 ounces chicken||0.9|
|2 slices whole grain bread||2|
|1 ½ cups mixed salad||1.3|
|1 tsp olive oil and vinegar dressing|
|1 cup fruit juice||0.9|
|Evening Snack||1 cup fat free yogurt|
|Total||33.61 mg Iron|
Photo credit: ©iStock.com/andreypopov