Anaemia is a reduced number of red blood cells and, or a reduced ability to carry oxygen in the blood, and it has many different causes. Anaemia can be developed due to an inherited condition, through use of certain prescription drugs or alcohol, through some chronic diseases or because of heavy periods.
Diet plays a role, too, of course, and anaemia can be caused by a dietary deficiency of iron, folic acid or vitamin B12, or through malabsorption of these important nutrients. Of these three, iron deficiency is most common, with an estimated three per cent of men and eight per cent of women being deficient in iron, irrespective of their diet.
It is perfectly possible to get enough iron on a vegan diet. Whole grains are a good source (brown rice, bulgur, millet, quinoa, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, and wholegrain bread and crackers) and so are legumes, which include beans of all kinds, lentils, peanuts, mange tout and peas. Other good sources are nuts, including nut butters, and seeds, including those little sesame or poppy seeds on the top of breads, or pumpkin and sunflower seeds in breakfast cereals or cereal bars. In terms of veggies, think kale, sprouts and spinach, but iron can also be found in dried apricots and other fruits, as well as blackstrap molasses. Eating foods high in vitamin C will help to absorb iron. If you’re eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables you’re almost certainly getting enough of this vitamin but you can boost your intake with red and green peppers, kiwi fruit, melon, strawberries, grapefruit and oranges.
As for folic acid, if you’re eating the iron-rich foods above, you will also be eating plenty of folate. Include yeast extract and breakfast cereals that are fortified with it, and your dietary intake should be covered.
And as for B12, this is the only vitamin that vegans need to pay particular attention to. Some breakfast cereals, plant milks and yeast extracts are fortified with it, but it is wise to take a B12 supplement just to be sure.
It is safe to be vegan if you are prone to anaemia so long as you take care to eat the right foods. If you are worried that you may have become anaemic, see your doctor for a blood test. If you are eating healthily, it may be there is something else going on.
Please see our Nutrition section for further nutrient information.