One of the most common disorders linked to our carbohydrate laden local African diets is anaemia. Anaemia is casually referred to as meaning a lack of blood. In reality, it is a state in which the body cells are deprived of their energy supply because the number of red blood cells which carry food and oxygen to these cells are low.
WHO estimates the number of anaemic people worldwide to be a staggering two billion! That’s more than the entire population of Nigeria. In Nigeria, more than half of the pre-school children and pregnant women are anaemic. This has dire implications as it implicitly highlights a vicious cycle of poor growth & development, and eventually impacts on human productivity from poor health. Breaking the cycle of anaemia is possible, but is also posed with the challenge of reaching the people who need the ‘interventions’ the most.
Many factors can lead to the state of anaemia, but the most common causes globally and in Nigeria are linked to dietary factors, especially a diet low in IRON. YES, that is correct: a primary ‘intervention’ has to do with getting Nigerians to learn to eat right! Thankfully, we also have loads of readily available African foods that can help deal with this when eaten in appropriate quantities and combinations.
Everyday Foods that are excellent sources of Iron
As a basic 1st principle, know this: Iron from animal sources is more readily absorbable than those from plant sources because the later requires some degree of metabolism before it becomes usable by the body.
Get started on BEEF. Beef uniquely doubles as an excellent source of Vitamin B12 and a lack of Vitamin B12 can cause anaemia. Find out why you NEED to eat Vitamin B12. Similarly, other types of white meat like CHICKEN & TURKEY are excellent sources of iron. Not forgetting FISH & other forms of SEA FOODS too.
As far as plant sources of iron go, GREEN VEGETABLES (such as spinach) are a rich and very cheap option. Legumes such as BEANS and SOYA BEANS are loaded with iron too in addition to their naturally high endowment of protein. Even CEREALS (carefully look out those that are iron-fortified) also provide a fair share of edible iron. The complimentary DAIRY/MILK also comes in handy. And you easily learn how to understand food labels.
As I mentioned earlier, the primary challenge with plant sources of iron is that they naturally exist as tightly bound chemical ferric forms (rather than the ferrous state in animal sources). However, here is a little trick: iron absorption from plant sources is increased when such meals are accompanied by foods rich in VITAMIN C and the most abundant fruits to get it in are citrus family fruits and Guava.
Conversely, non-animal iron absorption is decreased when you accompany such meals with certain teas or plants rich in Phytates and Phenols.
As an extra, iron supplements typically come in combination with other essential vitamin requirement for blood building like Folic Acid, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin A & C.