Can You Develop Anemia For Not Eating Meat? (The Truth Exposed)
You never eat any steaks? Oh my God you must be anemic! If you are a Vegetarian or a Vegan I am sure you have encountered these kind of comments before. But Can you really develop anemia for not eating meat or is there another side to the story?
Most of us, since when we were young children, were brainwashed to believe that meat equals iron, or milk equals calcium, and only animal proteins are “complete proteins“.
Fact is each of these three statements is nothing more than a myth, but a myth that keeps repeating itself.
How to avoid iron deficiency (and excess)
On the contrary to what we have been brought to believe, studies show that vegetarians and vegans do not have more iron deficiency anemia than non-vegetarians.
What we do have which is quite interesting are smaller deposits of iron. Is this a problem? No, it is not; not at all; on the contrary it has numerous advantages.
Iron is a potentially toxic substance. It produces free radicals that damage the liver, pancreas, heart and other organs. A high blood ferritin is related to the development of diabetes, liver and heart problems.
One of the reasons why women before menopause are less likely than men of the same age to develop these diseases is that we have less iron reserves, thanks to the losses that occur during menstruation or pregnancy and births. At least we can say after so many sacrifices we do have some positive things to talk about!!
Regular blood donors also benefit from this effect and according to numerous studies, they have less risk of developing cancer, heart disease and liver disease and being overweight than the general population. Donating blood not only helps the recipient, it also helps the donor!
You are pale and tired and can’t do a bit of exercise….you have anemia
There is no doubt that iron is important and we need it to be healthy. Iron is part of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in our blood, and of myo-globin, the protein that carries oxygen in our muscles, so an iron deficiency will cause a decrease in hemoglobin and, consequently, anemia. .
People with anemia are pale and tired and can’t really do a lot of exercise as they get tired really quickly.
They have a hard time concentrating and getting a good night’s sleep, and they often have a headache. Their nails become brittle and the hair falls easily. In more severe cases you can even develop palpitations and have difficulty breathing, as not enough blood reaches the heart and lungs.
The best way to get iron in our body thru a proper and healthy diet
What is the best way to obtain the iron we need from the diet, without risking too much? Does iron have the same effect depending from where we are getting it from?
How can we make sure that we take enough iron but not too much?
There are two types of iron in food:
- one is called heme iron, and it is found in meat and fish.
- The other is non-heme iron and we find it in all plant foods.
Meat and fish do not have much iron, but the one they have is very well absorbed.
This has always been an advantage of meat diets compared to vegetarian diets, but you should know that it is a double-edged sword: by eating meat we risk absorbing and accumulating too much iron.
Vegetables and especially legumes and many nuts and seeds, usually have more iron than meat and fish, however this iron is absorbed in a smaller percentage than meat.
Furthermore, this percentage is variable and depends on several factors: for example, if we have sufficient reserves, the absorption of non-heme iron in the intestine decreases, while if the reserves are low, absorption increases.
Our body is a perfect machine if we just nurture it and treat it properly.
The body regulates how much iron it absorbs and thus prevents excessive accumulation.
This mechanism of protection against excess iron does not work in the case of meat: although we have high reserves if we eat meat we will continue to absorb a high proportion of iron.
That is why non-vegetarians have higher levels of ferritin in the blood, many times above normal values. This is accentuated in non-vegetarian men especially once they pass the age of 35/40, since they do not have the protection against excess iron that menstruation entails and they have been absorbing high amounts of iron for many years.
It is interesting to observe the study published on the Okinawa longevity diet. As some of you may know, in Japan we can find one of the oldest and greatest amount of people that have reached and passed the age of 100. If we have a look at their type of diet, it is easy to see how it differs from the standard Western type.
What can you do to protect your body from lack or excess of iron?
There are several things we can do if we need to absorb more iron from our diet, and the most effective is to include a good amount of fruits and vegetables in each meal.
Fruits, vegetables are rich in vitamin C, and vitamin C is a potent enhancer of the absorption of vegetable iron.
Other acids present in foods, such as citric acid found in lemons, oranges, grapefruit, vinegar and fermented products such as yogurt, miso, sauerkraut and yeast bread also favor the absorption of vegetable iron; but the main one is vitamin C
Vitamin C is a potent enhancer of plant iron absorption
If you follow these simple rules you will always have good iron levels, without running the dangers of accumulating too much:
- Eat foods rich in vegetable iron (legumes, whole grains and nuts and seeds) in all your meals.
- Whole grains have more iron than refined grains and are always a better option.
- Accompany your meals with a good variety of fruits especially citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi, pineapple, mango, raw vegetables, salads and vegetables.
- Dress your salads with lemon juice and / or vinegar.
- Include in your diet fermented food like tempeh, fermented tofu, sauerkraut, yeast bread mother ….
- Do not drink coffee and tea with meals since they contain antioxidants – otherwise very positive – that inhibit the absorption of iron. Take these drinks a couple of hours after you have finished eating.
So you see there are only a few simple tips to follow to be able to control the amount of iron you put in your body and especially the good iron of a plant based diet.
Vegetables and fruits are the best nutrition we can give to our body and even though not everyone is a vegan or a vegetarian, I always hope that by reading one of my posts someone might feel inspired in at least trying to lead a more power plant based kind of diet….so we can leave our beautiful animals to live happily their own life!
Till the next time, may you all have a blessed day