I'm anemic. Is it because I'm vegetarian? What should I do?
Iron-deficiency anemia is quite common in women, whether they're vegetarian or not. That's because each month women lose some blood when they have their period. Blood contains iron so if those monthly iron losses aren't replaced, anemia can result. In addition, many women don't eat large servings of foods that contain iron so they may not be meeting the recommendations for iron. Also, if you donate blood regularly and don't eat high iron foods you can end up with anemia.
Your health care provider may recommend a low-dose iron supplement to help your body get the iron that it needs. Although the iron in supplements is generally not derived from animals, iron tablets may contain gelatin, artificial colors, or other undesirable substances. Vegan iron supplements are available.
Vegan foods that are high in iron include soybeans and soy products like tofu, tempeh, veggie burgers, and tofu dogs; dried beans; spinach and other greens; baked potatoes; and iron-fortified breads and cereals. Eating a food high in iron along with a food with lots of vitamin C (tomatoes, oranges, orange juice, for example), can help your body absorb more iron. You can even get some iron from cooking in a cast-iron skillet!
So, if you're handed a diagnosis of iron-deficiency anemia, don't panic but do try to increase your iron intake and go back in a few months to get your blood checked again.
For more information about another kind of anemia due to a vitamin B12 deficiency, see the section on vitamin B12.
by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD