Anemia is incredibly common, especially among women (vegan or not). In fact, you can be anemic and not even know it. If you’re concerned about anemia, these vegan foods for anemia can help get you back on track.
Anemia Symptoms and Treatment
According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of anemia include:
- Pale or yellowish skin
- Irregular heartbeats
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Chest pain
- Cold hands and feet
Of course, anemia isn’t the only thing that can cause these symptoms, so definitely talk to your doctor, if you suspect that you’re anemic. They can find out for sure by doing blood work.
Your treatment plan for anemia will depend on the underlying cause. If you have iron deficiency, your doctor is going to recommend eating more iron-rich foods and possibly an iron supplement. Folic acid and B12 deficiencies can also cause anemia, in which case you’d supplement those vitamins.
There are some types of anemia that aren’t caused by nutrient deficiencies. Certain chronic diseases can cause anemia, for example. Treating these forms of anemia usually requires more than dietary changes and supplements, so please talk to your doctor before trying to address anemia strictly through diet.
Vegan Foods for Anemia
If your doctor is recommending that you eat more iron, folic acid or vitamin B12, the foods for anemia below can help.
Vegan Iron-Rich Foods
Is your doctor worried that you’re not getting enough iron? Supplements can help, but they can also come with some nasty side effects, like severe constipation. Talk to your doctor to see if they’re okay with you trying to up your iron intake from food before turning to supplements.
- Beans, including bean products like tofu and hummus, are great vegan iron sources.
- Certain dried fruits—peaches, apricots and prunes—also provide a good amount of iron
- Dark, leafy greens can pack a powerful iron punch. Load up on the kale and collard greens, but skip the spinach and Swiss chard. These greens do contain a lot of iron, but they also contain compounds that block iron absorption.
- Blackstrap molasses is an iron powerhouse. Stir a tablespoon into your oatmeal to start the day with plenty of iron.
- Quinoa is a delicious iron-rich food that’s the perfect base for a Buddha bowl. You can also use it to make breakfast porridge. Maybe with some blackstrap molasses, for good measure?
You can improve your body’s iron absorption by eating iron-rich foods along with foods that contain vitamin C. What’s cool about vegan iron-rich foods is that many of them, like dark leafy greens, also contain vitamin C. It can’t hurt to up the ante, though, with fruits, sweet potatoes and winter squash.
Plant-Based Sources of Folic Acid
You probably associate folic acid—aka folate or vitamin B9—with pregnancy, but a folic acid deficiency can also cause anemia. These are some great vegan sources folic acid.
- Beans, which are also rich in iron, give you a hearty helping of folic acid.
- Just a half cup of asparagus provides 34 percent of your daily folate.
- Those iron-rich dark, leafy greens are also packed with folic acid, so dish yourself up a double helping! Other green veggies delivery folic acid, too. Brussels sprouts and broccoli, in particular, give you a good amount of folic acid per cup.
- A cup of beets contains 37 percent of your daily folic acid needs. They’re also a good source of vitamin C, which helps with iron absorption.
- Citrus fruits give you the double-whammy of folic acid and vitamin C. A kale salad with citrusy dressing is starting to sound like a recipe for fighting anemia!
- A handful of nuts and seeds are a filling snack that also deliver a healthy dose of folate.
- For a lot of us, wheat germ went out of style when the 90s were over, but this crunchy whole grain is rich with folic acid. Sprinkle it onto your morning oatmeal to add some crunch and folate to your morning.
- Certain fruits—papaya, banana and avocado—are great sources of folate.
Vegan Sources of B12
There aren’t a ton of dietary sources of vitamin B12, and I always encourage vegans to take a B12 supplement. The Vegan R.D. has a great primer on how to choose the best B12 supplement. If you do want to also add B12-rich vegan foods to your diet, though, you have a few options.
- Nutritional yeast is a vaguely-cheesy condiment that’s great sprinkled onto pasta, veggies, rice or anywhere you want to add a dash of cheesy flavor. It’s also a good vegan source of B12.
- According to Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine, vitamin B12 is actually produced by bacteria. That makes fermented foods—like tempeh, kombucha and kimchi—good dietary sources of the vitamin.
- Many of the foods on store shelves are also fortified with vitamin B12. Common B12-fortified foods include: vegan milks, many cereals and vegan meat alternatives.
If you are worried that you have undiagnosed anemia, please be sure to talk to your doctor. A simple blood test can determine whether or not you’re anemic, and not everyone can manage anemia with dietary changes alone.
Have you successfully managed anemia through dietary changes? What vegan foods for anemia worked for you?
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