The first step in treating this condition is usually for a doctor to prescribe an iron supplement. While diet plays an important role in treating iron-deficiency anaemia, it alone is not enough to correct the illness, so supplements are needed initially. “Factors such as difficulties in absorption as well as the volume and frequency of consumption of iron-rich foods make it problematic to rely on food alone,” explains dietitian Ria Catsicas.
Once the condition is under control, you may want to consider managing it with a balanced, iron-rich diet. “You shouldn’t need to be on supplements unnecessarily for the rest of your life,” says dietitian Deborah Talbot, adding that food sources of minerals are always first choice for a long-term healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
So, while diet alone can’t correct iron-deficiency anaemia, introducing certain ‘super foods’ to your meal plan can certainly help combat the condition, and manage your health in the long run.
Difference between haem versus non-haem iron
When planning your diet it is important to bear in mind that there are two types of iron: haem iron and non-haem iron, explains dietitian Mayuri Bhawan. Haem iron, which is found in meat, poultry and fish is easier for the body to absorb, while non-haem iron found in plant sources such as dried beans, peas, lentils, dried fruits, nuts, green leafy vegetables, tofu and egg are harder for the body to take in.
Fortunately vitamin C can help improve the absorption of plant-based irons, so Talbot recommends pairing non-haem irons with foods like citrus, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes, cabbage, peppers or chilli. Eating haem irons such as fish, chicken or meat at the same time can also increase non-haem iron absorption.
5 good foods for upping iron intake
1. Red meat
Red meat such as beef and lamb are high in haem iron, making it easier for the body to absorb. Serve up a fillet steak or liver casserole for hearty meals rich in the right mineral.
Get a good dose of haem iron from fatty fishes such a salmon, trout, pilchards or mackerel, along with shellfish like muscles, oysters and clams. A salad with 90g of tinned salmon makes for a great iron-rich lunch.
Tofu is a non-haem food that is high in iron. Include it in your diet by adding 100g to a broth.
From flat leaf to baby spinach, this leafy green vegetable is another valuable source of non-haem iron. Use it rather than lettuce in salads to up your daily dose of the mineral, or steam it and serve it as a side.
5. Kidney beans
Toss half a cup of kidney beans into your salad or stir-fry for an extra little iron boost.
Before making any radical dietary changes, always be sure to consult a healthcare professional.