The most common form of anaemia in Australia is iron deficiency anaemia. Eating iron-rich foods can help to prevent and treat iron deficiency anaemia.

Anaemia results in a lack of circulating oxygen in the blood. Adequate iron is required for red blood cells to deliver oxygen to body cells. Symptoms of anaemia include tiredness and fatigue, pale skin, irritability and increased sensitivity to the cold.

Those most at risk include:

  • Women due to monthly menstrual loss of blood
  • Children during rapid growth – especially premature or low birth weight babies, toddlers, preschoolers and during adolescence
  • Vegetarians, particularly those who eliminate all animal foods from their diet. The iron in animal foods is more easily absorbed by the body than iron from plant foods
  • Athletes due to the extra stress placed on their bodies.

Iron deficiency anaemia may also occur if foods are eliminated from the diet and not replaced by foods with similar nutritional value. People following ‘fad diets’ or detox diets to lose weight may be at risk of anaemia for this reason.

Healthy eating to prevent anaemia

To prevent anaemia, it is important to eat a well balanced diet that includes iron-rich foods. Iron-rich foods include:

  • red meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • eggs
  • dried beans and lentils
  • green leafy vegetables
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • wholegrain breads and cereals.

Absorption of iron from plant foods can be improved by eating food rich in vitamin C during the same meal. Try citrus fruits, red capsicum or kiwi fruit. Eating meat, fish or chicken can also increase absorption of iron in plant foods when eaten at the same time.

Absorption of iron from plant foods can be inhibited by tea, coffee and cola drinks. If you choose to drink these, it is best to have these drinks between meals.

Other types of anaemia may occur with dietary deficiencies of folate and some B vitamins.

An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) can provide nutrition and dietary advice to ensure your individual requirements for iron and other nutrients are being met.