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Foods to Fight Iron-Deficiency Anaemia

Dietetic Department

August 17, 2021

Iron deficiency (lack of iron) is the most common cause of anaemia (lack of red blood cell in the body). Without enough iron, your body can’t produce enough haemoglobin, a substance in red blood cell that helps to carry oxygen to the body organs and tissues. This is why a person with anaemia may feel weak, tired, and irritable as the body is not able to carry enough oxygen.

There are many causes of iron deficiency including blood loss and insufficient intake of dietary iron. The recommended iron intake based on Recommended Nutrients Intake for Malaysia 2017 are:

Women aged 19 & above : 20-29mg/day Fe

Men aged 19 & above : 9-14mg/day Fe

Pregnancy women : 840mg Fe

Iron is essential during growth and development, pregnant women as well as people with certain health conditions. 

Iron-deficiency anaemia can be treated with:

In foods, iron is present in two forms: heme and non-heme. 

Heme iron is the best form of iron where it is readily absorbed by your body. Non-heme iron is absorbed much less efficiently due to its phytate, polyphenols and fiber content. For example, the iron absorption of a serving of steak is 20% whereas the iron absorption for a serving of cooked spinach is 1.4%. Therefore, it is very important for us to what are the dietary factors that can boost or inhibit the iron absorption in the body.

HEME IRON

VS

NON-HEME IRON

Animal only

Sources

Animal/Plant

High

Absorption rate

Low

  • Beef & Chicken Liver
  • Oysters, Clams & Mussels
  • Beef
  • Canned Sardines
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Fish (Halibut, Haddock, Salmon, Tuna)
  • Ham
  • Veal

Food sources

  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Spinach (cooked)
  • Seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds)
  • Tofu
  • Beans & lentil​s 
  • Fortified breakfast cereals 
  • Baked potato with skin 
  • Dried fruits (raisins, apricots, etc.)
  • Nuts (cashews, almonds, pistachio, etc.)

HEME IRON

Source: Animal only

Absorption rate: High

Food Sources:

  • Beef & Chicken Liver
  • Oysters, Clams & Mussels
  • Beef
  • Canned Sardines
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Fish (Halibut, Haddock, Salmon, Tuna)
  • Ham
  • Veal

NON-HEME IRON

Sources: Animal/Plant

Absorption rate: Low

Food Sources:

  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Spinach (cooked)
  • Seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds)
  • Tofu
  • Beans & lentil​s 
  • Fortified breakfast cereals 
  • Baked potato with skin 
  • Dried fruits (raisins, apricots, etc.)
  • Nuts (cashews, almonds, pistachio, etc.)

Foods that can interfere with iron absorption

  • Caffeine
  • Calcium and phosphorus (milk/dairy)
  • Phytate/Fiber
  • Oxalate

Tricks to maximise your iron absorption

  • Avoid drinking tea or coffee with meals
  • Avoid eating foods rich in calcium with those rich in iron
  • Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) helps to boost the iron absorption. Vitamin C must be present in the same meal with non-heme iron to enhance iron absorption. For example: Drinking citrus juice such as orange juice along with meals, drizzle lemon juice over leafy greens, get some vitamin C rich fruits such as guava, papaya along with meal.