Iron and Pregnancy: What Should I Eat?
Anemia is the most common micronutrient deficiency in the world. This is a condition in which the body does not have enough red blood cells – cells that are needed to carry oxygen to the body. Iron deficiency is the most common reason.
Pregnancy carries a high risk of iron deficiency. The body’s requirements increase significantly, because a large amount is required for the development of the placental unit and because there is a need to increase the blood volume of the pregnant woman by 30-50%, to maintain proper circulation and oxygen supply to her organs and placenta.
Depending on its severity, iron deficiency is a risk factor for both maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality. Then the chances of premature birth increase, there are problems in the development of the placenta, there is a delay in the development of the fetus, which has smaller iron reserves after birth.
The mother shows fatigue, weakness, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, pale skin, cold hands and feet and reduced mental capacity. There is a higher risk of cardiovascular stress, infection and blood transfusions in case of significant loss during childbirth, and reduced milk production in labor. Exhaustion of maternal iron stores after childbirth and has a higher chance of postpartum depression. Therefore, effective treatment of anemia after its diagnosis is imperative. Pregnant women need 27mg of iron daily.
Depending on the severity of the anemia, iron supplements are recommended, as well as vitamin C supplements, which can help with its absorption. The usual side effects from taking it, which are stomach pain, constipation, nausea and vomiting, often become reasons why women do not follow the doctor’s instructions.
Regardless of the supplement, a diet that includes more iron-rich foods can help significantly. The most iron-rich foods are beef, pork and lamb, liver, eggs, chicken, turkey, mussels, oysters and shrimp (heme iron).
Non-heme iron (from non-animal sources) contains plenty of vegetables, fruits and nuts. Of the vegetables, spinach, celery, kale, tomatoes, peas, broccoli, sweet potatoes, green beans and dandelions have the most iron. Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas) are also high in iron. Fruits that can improve iron levels are plums, strawberries, figs, raisins, peaches and apricots, especially dried ones. Nuts are also beneficial: cashews, peanuts, pasatempo, sesame, walnuts. Fortified cereals and dark chocolate are also good sources.
Heme iron is absorbed much more easily than non-heme iron. The body can absorb up to 30% of heme iron, as opposed to non-heme iron which is limited to only 2-10%. However, experts recommend including a variety of iron sources in the diet.
For better absorption, the above foods should be combined with sources of vitamin C. Rich in this vitamin are citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwis, melons, peaches, exotic fruits: pineapple, papaya and mango, greens leafy vegetables, tomatoes and peppers, parsley, kale, broccoli and cauliflower, as well as Brussels sprouts.
But there are also foods that block the absorption of iron. Such are tea and coffee and generally foods that contain tannins. Drinking tea and coffee (including decaffeinated) can stop the absorption of iron, especially when taken with a meal. Simultaneous eating of dairy products and foods that contain large amounts of calcium should also be avoided.
Creating a diet that contains the right amounts of iron, with the right food combinations for maximum absorption of trace elements can prevent the occurrence of anemia or fight it during pregnancy and after childbirth.