Foods for Treating Iron Deficiency Anemia and Side Effects

Food and Nutritional Recommendations

Dark green leafy vegetables are a good source of iron. Martin Barraud/ GettyImages

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia and frequently occurs in girls and women during their female reproductive years. While excessive blood loss most commonly causes iron deficiency anemia, increasing your dietary intake of iron-rich foods can both help prevent and treat low iron levels in your blood.

Anemia can lead to various health complications, including weakness, dizziness, fatigue, paleness and bruising.

These symptoms can be severe and can inhibit your daily functioning, so treatment is sometimes necessary to improve your blood levels. 

What treatment is best for you depends on the severity of your anemia. For example, severe cases often require a blood transfusion, while mild to moderate cases of iron deficiency usually require treatments such as iron supplements or dietary changes to increase the amount of iron that you consume.

Whether you have a severe or mild case of iron deficiency anemia, a diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia usually means a change in your diet. This means that you will need to increase the amount of iron-rich food that you consume, as well as increase your intake of folic acid and vitamin C in foods. Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron better.

Depending on the severity of your iron deficiency anemia, your doctor may also prescribe iron supplements, as well as vitamin C supplements.

Girls and women with iron deficiency anemia should increase their intake of red meat, such as beef and liver. This is because the iron in meat is more easily absorbed than the iron in fruits and vegetables.

Other good sources of dietary iron include:

  • egg yolks
  • fish and shellfish
  • poultry
  • pork
  • prune juice
  • dried fruits, such as raisins, apricots, and peaches
  • beans and nuts, including legumes, peas, almonds, peanut butter, and red, white, and baked beans
  • whole grain bread
  • iron-fortified cereals, breads, and pasta
  • dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and other greens

You can increase your vitamin C intake by eating more:

  • oranges, grapefruits, lemons and other citrus fruits (including fruit juices)
  • kiwi fruit
  • mangoes
  • apricots
  • strawberries
  • cantaloupe
  • watermelon
  • broccoli
  • peppers
  • tomatoes
  • cabbage
  • potatoes
  • leafy greens, such as spinach and romaine lettuce

Side effects of iron and vitamin C supplements include dark stools and heartburn or other stomach irritations. Iron may also cause constipation, and you may need to take a stool softener while using iron and vitamin C supplements.

Finally, you should be aware that consuming too much iron is dangerous and can cause a condition called hemochromatosis, or iron overload. Talk to your doctor if you experience any side effects while using iron or vitamin C supplements.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about increasing your iron intake with supplemental iron.

While low iron levels are a common part of your monthly cycle, it can cause complications in some severe cases. If you feel weak, tired or fatigued during your period, you may want to consult a doctor to discuss your symptoms. Iron supplements and diet changes can help minimize anemia and improve your overall health during your monthly cycle. 

Sources:

NHLBI. How is Iron Deficiency Anemia Treated? 2008.

Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. Iron Deficiency Anemia.. 2008.

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