One of the causes of anemia is iron deficiency, which is a nutrition problem frequently occurring in women, especially during pregnancy.
Iron requirements of pregnant women are approximately double that of non-pregnant women because of increased blood volume during pregnancy, increased needs of the fetus, and blood losses that occur during delivery. The volume of the mother’s blood during pregnancy increases by approximately 45%. As the volume of blood increases, the mother’s body increases the production of red blood cells in charge of transporting valuable hemoglobin molecules. Hemoglobin is responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body. Since iron intake from food may not be enough to cover the gestational requirements, doctors usually prescribe an iron supplement during pregnancy.
How do you know whether you have anemia?
Acceptable concentrations of hemoglobin in the blood are greater than or equal to the following values:
- Adult women, non-pregnant 12 gm/dL
- Adult women, pregnant (trimester 2) 11 gm/dL
- Adult women, pregnant (trimester 3) 10.5 gm/dL
This test can be done by your health care provider by taking blood sample.
What are the symptoms of anemia?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), signs of iron deficiency anemia include:
- Feeling tired and weak
- Decreased work and school performance
- Slow cognitive and social development during childhood
- Difficulty maintaining body temperature
- Decreased immune function, which increases susceptibility to infection
- Glossitis (an inflamed tongue)
Sources of iron in the diet
Though iron can be found in both animal (heme iron) and non-meat food items (non-heme iron), the body absorbs iron contained in foods of animal origin better than that contained in products of vegetable origin. Vegetarians must pay close attention to getting enough iron in their diet, especially if they become pregnant.
There are simple ways to help improve iron absorption. Below are some examples:
- Foods with the highest iron content are red meats like beef, pork, liver, and blood sausages.
- The vegetables with the greatest iron content are green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli. Hot peppers, bell peppers, pumpkin seeds, lentils, beans, and chickpeas also have high iron content. However, the iron contained in products of vegetable origin is not absorbed well. These foods contain other substances known as phytates that interfere with iron absorption.
- Increase iron absorption by eating food rich in iron along with food that contains vitamin C, such as citrus fruits (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit), bell peppers, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower.
- Avoid mixing foods rich in iron or iron supplements with coffee, black tea, soy, red wine, or dark beer. A substance called tannin in these beverages interferes with the absorption of iron. Remember that you shouldn’t drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy.
- Fiber is important and beneficial during pregnancy to prevent constipation. However, it is important to note, that fiber interferes with iron absorption. When eating foods rich in iron, try to limit the amount of high fiber foods eaten at the same time.
- Iron supplements may cause stomach problems and constipation. If this happens, ask your doctor to change the supplements, but don’t stop taking the iron. It is very important for your health and your baby’s health.
Before taking any type of supplement, you should ask your doctor, especially if you’re pregnant.
*Dietitian of the MyDiet™ Team
© 2016 HolaDoctor