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How to prevent anemia in pregnant women who do not eat meat?

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By : Nurturing Life's Nutrition Team | Montreal Diet Dispensary

To prevent anemia, a woman who does not eat meat should eat plenty of iron-rich foods in combination with vitamin C-rich foods. She should also limit foods that can reduce iron absorption such as phytates and polyphenols found in tea, coffee and cocoa, as well as other sources.

Vegetarians, and in particular vegans, must eat twice as much iron as non-vegetarians. Non-heme iron, the type of iron found in grains, lentils, vegetables and fruits, is not as well absorbed as heme iron. In addition, the iron stores of vegetarians are often lower than for people who eat meat.

Anemia during pregnancy can lead to premature delivery and can decrease the baby’s birth weight. It can also reduce iron stores that are accumulated by the baby during gestation, putting him at greater risk for iron deficiency later on. Therefore, it is essential to prevent anemia and treat it if it occurs.

In order to prevent anemia, it is important to eat plenty of iron-rich foods in combination with vitamin C-rich foods several times a day. When consumed at the same time as vitamin C, the absorption rate of iron is doubled.

Here are a few examples:

Iron accompanied by … Vitamin C
Lentil meal Two clementines
Chili with kidney beans Raw multi-colored pepper salad
Instant oatmeal 125 ml of orange juice

Meat is the food group that is the richest in iron, therefore pregnant women who do not consume meat greatly increase their risk of anemia.

Overall, the incidence of anemia is generally high amongst pregnant women. It isstrongly recommended that all pregnant women take a daily prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement, containing 27 mg of iron.

If the pregnant woman consumes dairy products, the prenatal supplement should be taken between meals so as not to affect iron absorption. High consumption of tea or coffee can contribute to the development of anemia. It is advisable to limitconsumption to 2 cups a day, outside of meals. To reduce phytate intake which also reduces the absorption of iron, it is advisable to soak legumes and discard the water before cooking them.
If the pregnant mother develops anemia, her diet should be evaluated by a registered nutritionist who will advise her on ways to increase her iron intake.

References

  • Allen H., Lindsey. (2000). Anemia and iron deficiency: effects on pregnancy outcome. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 71(suppl):1280S–4S.
  • Dietitians of Canada. Vegetarianism background. In PEN : practice-based evidence in nutrition®. Last update: Feb 21, 2012. Access only by subscription.
  • Position of the American dietetic association: Vegetarian diet. (2009). Journal of the Academy of nutrition and dietetics. Volume 109, Issue 7 , Pages 1266-1282,July.
  • Shils, M.E., Shike, M., Ross, C., Caballero, B. & Cousins, R. (2006). Modern nutrition in health and diseases (10th ed.). Philadelphia, United States of America: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

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The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the official views of the Public Health Agency of Canada.