After a recent lab test, I was informed that I am slightly anemic. While I will be taking iron and B vitamin supplments, I can also help restore my body's levels through practicing good nutrition. This is great motivation to follow through on one of my goals this year (and always) of eating more natural foods and less processed junk.
When we hear the term "anemia" most people automatically think iron supplements, and while those often are the treatment, there are actually two kinds of anemia: iron deficiency and red blood cell deficiency.
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In a simple but effective analogy, imagine your red blood cells as a train with a long line of cars inside your blood vessels. Each of the "cars", or RBC, are loaded with a protein called Hemoglobin (Hb on a lab report). Each hemoglobin has four iron atoms on it, and to each of those is attached an oxygen molecule. So what we're talking about is the body's oxygen carrying capacity.
To maximise oxygen carrying capacity, the hemoglobin needs to be carrying as much oxygen as possible and the bone marrow must be producing enough red blood cells, which is reflected on a lab report as the Hematocrit (Hct on a lab report.) Hematocrit is the percentage of RBC in a given quantity of whole blood.
Again, in simplest terms of the analogy, the train must be full of cars (Hct) and the cars must be loaded with hemoglobin/iron/oxygen (Hb). Normal values on a lab report for Hb are 12-16 gr/dl for women, 14-18 gr/dl for men. Normal values for Hct are 38-46% for women, and 42-54% for men.
For me, personally, while my Hb was normal, albeit the lowest end of normal, my Hct was 34 so as per our analogy: not enough cars (RBC) on the train.
While a low Hb is normally treated with iron supplementation alone, manufacturing RBC is also aided by iron supplementation along with all of the B vitamins, including folate (also known as folic acid or B9), which promote both cell division and growth. Also interesting is that Vitamin C aids the body in absorbing and retaining both iron and B vitamins.
Now we're back to nutrition.
Iron. The most easily absorbed iron comes from heme iron. This is iron that is contained in the RBC of animal foods: meat, dairy, poultry, seafood, with the highest sources being found in organ meats (so while foie gras may offend on principle there is a nutritional history for its consumption). Iron sources found in plants (non-heme) and in fortified food such as cereals and commercially prepared breads are also good but the body has to work harder to absorb and retain it.
B Vitamins and folate. With the exception of B12, the B vitamins (and vitamin C) are plentifully available in a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains (wheat, rye, oats, quinoa, brown rice, etc), legumes (beans, peas, etc), nuts, and particularly in the dark green vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli, etc. You know, all those things our Moms used to make us eat and that we know we're supposed to still be eating at least five servings a day of.
The one exception is Vitamin B12 which comes almost exclusively from meat, dairy, poultry, and seafood. This vitamin is critical for RBC manufacture and is usually the one vitamin that can be lacking in a vegan diet so the nutritional recommendations for vegans is usually B-12 fortified soy, tempeh, or cereals.
This may be where my problem lies, to be honest. Although I am not vegan, I could call myself lacto-ovo vegetarian much of the time. I'm just not a big meat eater. It's a texture thing. I don't hate meat or have morality issues with the consumption of meat, it's just not my first pick and choose when eating for pleasure. For me, the correction of my anemia (been there, done this before) usually lies in a combination of doctor-ordered supplements while indulging myself in the meats I do like, including the organ meat braunsweiger, and keeping a diet diary to make sure I'm meeting a quota of 50gr of animal proteins/day and at least five servings of low-processed fruits/veggies/legumes/nuts per day. Since it takes approximately 3-4 weeks for the body to turn the ship around, so to speak, my blood labs will be repeated in three months. I'll let you know how successful my nutritional intervention has been.
One last note about anemia. The discussion I've made here is in the context of an average health, average person who is slightly anemic for dietary reasons. There are other more serious forms of anemia caused by medications, disease processes, or trauma that are corrected in a clinical or hospital setting with shots, blood products, etc.
On to a new recipe! To supplement my vitamin B's and C I'm now alternating my scrambled eggs and toast breakfast with this delicious, no-sugar-needed, hot cereal made effortlessly in a small crockpot from War Eagle Mill's 7-grain Hot Cereal and dried berries:
Crockpot War Eagle Mill 7-Grain Hot Cereal & Berries
1/2 cup mixed dried Berries
2 1/2 cups water
Dash of salt
Pat of butter (optional)
Stir first four ingredients together in a mini crockpot (4-6 cups) and cook on low (my "Crock-ette" only has one setting) for 7-8 hours. Porridge will thicken as it cools.
Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups.
Recipe can easily be double or tripled in a larger crockpot to serve a larger family or to have more servings set aside in the fridge for the week ahead.
Nutrition for 1/2 of this recipe (no added sugar or butter): Calories: 150; Protein: 4; Carbs: 24; Fat .5; Fiber 5; Weight Watchers Points: 3