Vitamin C is the solution to India's problem with Anaemia and Iron deficiency!
The 4th National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), highlighted Anaemia as a major health problem in India, with 58% of children, 53% of women and 23% of men surveyed suffering from the condition. Although NFHS-4 presented a decline in numbers related to anaemia compared to when previously surveyed in 2005 (in NFHS-3), learning that more than half of the country’s children and women face this condition is disconcerting.
What is Anaemia?
Anaemia is a condition where your body cannot produce enough red blood cells, leading to a reduced flow of oxygen to your vital organs. Anaemia results in tiredness, weakness, a shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches and pale skin.
What is the main cause of anaemia?
The most common cause of anaemia is iron deficiency. Iron is required by your body to produce haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is what makes your blood red, and it is also the component of red blood cells which allows them to carry oxygenated blood to different parts of the body. Iron isn’t produced by the human body and must be derived from your diet. What’s more, your body only absorbs a small amount of the iron from the food you eat, so it’s important that your diet is rich in iron.
Why is iron deficiency such a big problem in India?
According to a report of the Expert Group of the Indian Council of Medical Research, 2010, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of iron is 8 mg daily for adult men, 21 mg for adult women, and 35 mg for pregnant women. Women are more prone to anaemia due to blood loss caused by monthly periods, and especially so in case you experience heavy flows in your periods. The problem arises because the average daily intake of iron per capita in India is only 14 mg per day, with state-wise data exhibiting daily intakes of as low as 7mg per day. The Indian diet predominantly consists of cereals/wheat/millet and vegetarian food. Although leafy green veggies do have a high iron content, they are a source of non-haem iron, which has a lower rate of absorption than iron derived from meat and fish, known as haem iron. Specifically, non-haem iron derived from vegetables is absorbed at the rate of 2 – 20% whereas the absorption of haem iron ranges from 15 – 25%. An additional problem with non-haem iron foods is that the rate of absorption of iron from these foods is also heavily dependent on the foods you have alongside them. For example, one of the biggest causes of lower rates of iron absorption from non-haem foods are phytates which are found in grains, legumes, nuts, vegetables, roots and fruits. Phytates can decrease iron absorption from non-haem foods by 51-82%! Another major cause for lowered non-haem iron absorption is tannates, which are present in tea, coffee, herbs and spices. So, the Indian diet and lifestyle mean that we’re almost predisposed to iron deficiency.
Are you experiencing symptoms of anaemia?
If you feel symptoms of anaemia, consider eating more meats, poultry, and seafood which are richest in haem iron. If you’re vegetarian, you’re actually at risk and should add as many leafy vegetables, beans and dried fruits as you can to your diet as possible!
How can Vitamin C increase your iron intake?
Another step you can make is to increase your vitamin C intake. An increased intake of Vitamin C is regularly prescribed to those facing iron deficiency. In fact, Vitamin C is a major factor in beating iron deficiency and anaemia. How does vitamin C fix your iron deficiency and treat anaemia? It’s quite cool. Vitamin C increases the efficiency with which your body absorbs and metabolizes iron. It even ensures that non-haem iron is caught and set aside in an easily absorbable form. In fact, studies have linked doses of just 100mg of Vitamin C to an improved iron absorption by 67%.
Some foods high in Vitamin C that you can include in your diet and are easily available in India are leafy greens like spinach and broccoli, fruits like amla, papaya, lemons, limes and oranges, and vegetables like tomatoes and bell peppers. Check out this simple Vitamin C boosting salad at the bottom of Harvard TH Chan’s School of Public Health’s page on Iron under the “Did You Know?” subsection.
Be sure to consume Vitamin C rich foods during the course of your meals to maximise how much iron your body can absorb. As we had said before, in the case of non-haem iron, iron absorption is highly dependent on the foods consumed along with the food containing iron. A simple change in your diet and its structure could mean a world of change in how you feel on a daily basis!
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