Estimates suggest that over one third of the world’s population suffers from anemia, mostly iron deficiency anemia. India continues to be one of the countries with very high prevalence. National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) reveals the prevalence of anemia to be 70-80 per cent in children, 70 per cent in pregnant women and 24 per cent in adult men.
Most of the research studies have revealed that the majority of vegetarians suffer from irondeficiency. Anemia can cause serious problems in children and pregnant mothers such as respiratory failure, cardiac arrest, breathlessness, low blood pressure, maternal death, low birth weight etc. Anemia needs to be evaluated with blood test.
Patients should seek medical advice to prevent further complications related to their health.
Prevalence of anemia in India is high because of low dietary intake, poor availability of iron and chronic blood loss due to hook worm infestation and malaria. Poor nutritional status and anemia in pregnancy have consequences that extend over generations.
Based on current trend, Iron deficiency Anemia is commonly reported in vegetarians compared to nonvegetarians who manage to be at mild or moderate risk. Some of the common symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath, pale or cold skin, dizziness etc.
Anemia remains to be the major cause of maternal mortality and low birth weight in India. There are many awareness programmes undertaken to prevent complications in expectant mothers and children below 12 years of age.
One such nationwide program was ‘Launch of 12 by 12 initiative’ 2007 by AIIMS Delhi in collaboration with WHO, UNICEF and FOGSI. A vegetarian should plan his/her meal judiciously to avoid the risk of iron deficiency anemia. Iron is present in plant sources such as soy, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, dates, dried beans, etc.
The bioavailability or the absorption of iron to our body from these sources is only enhanced by the presence of ascorbic acid / Vitamin C.
Since the vegetarian source of iron is called non-heam source, it is not absorbed directly by our body. Along with this, presence of fiber rich vegetables (Phosphates, phytates etc) and immediate consumption of caffeinated drinks such as coffee and tea can again hinder the rate of absorption of iron by a vegetarian. Non-vegetarians can obtain iron directly from animal sources such as meat, fish, egg, and poultry.
These food items are called as heam source of iron and do not need any nutrients to mediate the process. Hence, the Iron deficiency anemia is common among vegetarians.
If you are a vegetarian then there is no need for you to switch to non-veg diet. Rather there are few careful tips to be implemented and seek the advice of a nutritionist to balance your meal plan.
Tips to prevent anemia
Iron tablets that are prescribed by your doctor should be carefully taken two hours before, or four hours after ingestion of antacids. Inhibitors like tea, coffee, herbal drinks, calcium etc. should not be consumed with iron tablets or immediately after a meal.
Include Vitamin C rich foods such as orange, sweet lime, guava, kiwi, amla, cabbage, sprouts, capsicum, etc regularly in your diet.
More importantly, remember, vitamin C is sensitive to heating and lost when processed therefore it is better to take in the form of salads. List all the iron rich foods with the Nutritionist and include them in your daily menu plan.
Include different variety of green leafy vegetables 4 -5 times a week with a fi nal touch of lime after its preparation. Encourage children to eat balanced home meal, all three times a day and avoid junk food.