Anemia is a condition where the body lacks sufficient red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues, and there are various kinds and causes.1 It can be developed due to an inherited condition, through the use of certain prescription drugs or alcohol, through some chronic diseases or because of heavy periods. In terms of diet, it can be caused by a deficiency in iron, folic acid or vitamin B12 but all of these nutrients can be found on a plant-based diet.
Research shows that those who don’t eat meat are no more likely to suffer from iron deficiency anemia than those who do.2 This may be because those eating meat-free diets tend to get more vitamin C, which helps us absorb iron,3 but, according to research, it may be because they actually get more iron, too.4 You see, even meat eaters get most of their iron from plants.5
There are two types of iron; heme iron, which is found in meat, and non-heme iron which is found in plants. Heme iron (the meaty type) can be digested more readily but it is also associated with metabolic syndrome and heart disease.6 With this in mind, medical expert Dr. Michael Greger says the healthiest source of iron appears to be non-heme iron, which is found naturally in abundance in whole grains, beans, split peas, chickpeas, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds.
As for folate, vegans tend to do pretty well. Data from the EPIC-Oxford study, which compares different dietary groups, showed that vegan participants had the highest levels of folate in their blood.7 Folate is easy to find as it is in leafy greens, beans, peas and lentils, oranges, beetroot, quinoa, mango, asparagus, avocado, okra, parsnips, chia seeds and ground flaxseed.
Vegans do need to be more careful about B12 as it is found most prevalently in animal products. But vegans can get a good amount from fortified yeast extract, plant milks, breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast. Those who want to be absolutely certain of getting sufficient may also take a supplement.
So, there is no reason why the myth of the anemic vegan persists. Those who eat a balanced plant-based diet have no such concerns.
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