Whether you are a teenager or an adult in India, one thing that is seriously lacking in our diet is iron. How else would you explain the staggering level of iron deficiency, even anaemia, among the Indian population? Studies have shown that about 55 per cent of Indian women in the age group of 15-49 are anaemic. The figure hovers around 25 per cent for men in the same age group. Now consider this—anemia is a late indicator of iron deficiency. This means that iron deficiency among us is 2.5 times more than that of anaemia.
There are various causes for this. In teenage boys, the sudden spurt of growth is very demanding of various nutrients including iron while in teenage girls it is mostly due to the loss of blood during menstruation. Then there are cases of pregnant women who are very susceptible to iron deficiency. In this case, iron needs to be supplemented along with a healthy diet. Among the adult population (who are not pregnant), iron deficiency is mostly lifestyle related.
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Thanks to our busy schedules and lack of time to cook meals from scratch, we have let anti-nutrients like processed food take centre stage on our dinner tables. The absence of enough iron-rich foods in the diet coupled with an inadequate level of vitamin C and B12 in the diet (these help absorb iron from food) is another cause. Another major cause is inadequate sleep. If you are guilty of reaching out for packet foods everytime you are hungry and are sleep-deprived, get your iron levels in blood checked right away.
So, what is the way out? A wholesome, nutritious diet can take care of all your nutritional needs. Nutritional therapist and certified holistic cancer coach Rachna Chhachhi suggests that instead of focusing only on iron-rich foods, we need to focus on foods with the right balance of folate, iron and vitamin C to increase the absorption of iron from food and to enable the body to make iron.
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Chhachhi lists full organic eggs with the yolk, chicken liver, green leafy vegetables, raw salads, fruits like pomegranate and oranges and carbohydrates like brown rice and millets as some of the best sources of this essential nutrient. “Adequate sleep will ensure that the body absorbs iron and all the repair work happens when we sleep well,” she adds.
Bengaluru-based nutritionist Shalini Manglani breaks down the diet chart to make it easier for you to take care of your iron needs:
- Dark green leaves are an excellent iron source. Cook with leaves like palak, methi, mint, coriander, basil, arugula and amaranth, whenever possible. They can go into vegetable gravies, dals, chutneys, pesto etc. Some green juice is good, too. They should be part of your diet three times a week.
- Eggs are a good source of iron for non-vegetarians. The Indian herring (fish) is another option. As for vegetarians, a combination of legumes and cereals will take care of their iron needs.
- One teaspoon watercress seeds, soaked in water overnight.
- Watermelon and jaggery have some traces of iron and can be used to satisfy sweet cravings.
- Vitamin C-rich foods in the diet help in the absorption of iron. There are plenty of fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C. A fistful of your favourite berries, a glass of lime juice, a fruit bowl with strawberries, cherries, papaya, kiwi or guava can ensure your vitamin C needs are taken care of, which in turn will ensure iron absorption in the body.
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