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June 18, 2019  
UTERINE NEWS: Feature Story

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  • Iron Deficiency Anemia and Dark Green Vegetables

    Good Food, Good Medicine – Iron Deficiency Anemia and Dark Green Vegetables


    November 06, 2006

    Part 1

    By: Jean Johnson for Uterus1

    In the old days, young women who were anemic were simply told to stop by the drug store and pick up some iron capsules – with the caveat to take as directed since it is possible to overload the body with high concentrations.
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    While the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests that cereals, breads, and pastas that are fortified with extra iron are good choices for those with iron deficiency anemia, it also lists the following foods as good, natural sources of iron:
  • Spinach and other dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Peanuts, peanut butter, and almonds
  • Eggs
  • Peas, lentils, and white, red, or baked beans
  • Dried fruits, such as raisins, apricots, and peaches
  • Prune juice

    The NHLBI singles out vegetables and fruits (especially citrus) as good sources of vitamin C. Vegetables rich in vitamin C include:
  • Broccoli
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Cabbage
  • Potatoes
  • Leafy green vegetables like romaine lettuce, turnip greens, and spinach

    The NHLBI further states that folate – a word that comes from the Latin term for leaf – is a form of vitamin B and is useful in combating anemia since it helps with the production of red blood cells. Foods the NHLBI recommends to ensure adequate folate are:
  • Spinach and other dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Black-eyed peas or dried beans
  • Beef liver
  • Eggs
  • Bananas, oranges, and some other fruits and juices


  • But that was before Americans commenced their love affair with healthy eating and before our era’s zeitgeist awakened us to the idea that good food really can be good medicine. These days if your blood tests come back showing iron deficiency anemia, the conversation at the doctor’s office might just as likely turn to your diet.

    Garrett Berdan, RD, chef and registered dietitian of Portland, Oregon, is by his own admission, “passionate about food.” We have turned to his nutritional advice before, and now look to his ideas on quick, easy, and scrumptious dishes that can help turn anemia around.

    First, some background on iron deficiency anemia can underscore why smart women might want to take some action to ensure they function at peak performance.

    Anemia Widespread in Women of Childbearing Age

    National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) data shows that more that three million people in the United States have anemia. While the condition can occur in all age groups and has various forms, women of childbearing age who lose blood from menstruation and childbirth are particularly at risk for iron deficiency anemia. The Mayo Clinic adds that one in five women and half of all pregnant women are in this category.

    “During pregnancy, anemia can develop due to deficiencies of iron and folate, and from a change in the concentration of blood,” states the NHLBI. “During the first six months of pregnancy, the fluid portion (plasma) of a woman’s blood increases faster than the number of red blood cells, diluting the blood and causing the hematocrit to fall.”

    The NHLBI goes on to point out that “the treatment your doctor prescribes will depend on the type, cause, and severity of the anemia you have. Treatment may include dietary supplements, changes in diet, medicines, and/or medical procedures such as blood transfusions and surgery.”

    From Pale Complexions to Low Energy – Why Anemia is Not Our Friend

    Young women might go for years low on iron without ever seeking treatment. But these ladies put themselves at a disadvantage and generally don’t have the energy they might otherwise.

    Indeed, extreme fatigue and weakness are common results of iron deficiency anemia. Cold hands and feet, brittle nails, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, headache, and inflammation or soreness of the tongue are the signs and symptoms the Mayo Clinic lists for the problem.

    “Oxygenated blood gives your body energy and your skin a healthy color,” states the Mayo Clinic. Oxygenated blood also puts the light in our eyes, a sparkle that comes from feeling well and having the energy to enjoy a full, rich life.

    Bringing Home the Groceries

    We asked chef Garret Berdan, RD to comment on dark vegetables. Beautiful bunches of greens and tall stalks of broccoli can get passed by in a twirl around the produce section. They are often dismissed as too strong or too tough or just too hard to clean and make taste good.

    Then again, many of us overlook dark green veggies simply because we’re not familiar with them. The reason isn’t important. An openness and willingness to learn is all it takes to add variety to the grocery cart and the table – and counter anemia.

    If you read the Mayo Clinic’s advice on eating foods that can help prevent iron deficiency anemia, you’ll find the meat, seafood, poultry, and eggs sources listed first along with the statement that “meat sources of iron are called heme iron sources and are easily absorbed by the body.” The revered clinic does go on to say that “plant-based foods also are good sources of iron, although they’re not as easily absorbed.”

    A close reading of both Mayo Clinic and NHLMI literature reveals that Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, and that folate is necessary for the production of red blood cells. It appears that Mother Nature knew what she was doing since dark green vegetables are high in both nutrients.

    In sum, there’s a reason the authors of classic cookery book “Laurel’s Kitchen” call the dark green crowd super vegetables and recommend eating one serving a day of them. These foods are loaded with nutrients. They’re our friends. They are especially friendly to us if we have iron deficiency anemia.

    We hope you follow this story through to Part Two where Garrett Berdan takes us on a trip to the kitchen. He promises tips on how to boost levels of iron and folate in our bodies, and an adventure into the realm of vegetables the color of the Pacific Northwest’s deep, expansive evergreen forests.

    Continued in Part Two

    Last updated: 06-Nov-06

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