Every cell and organ in your body needs oxygen. Hemoglobin is a protein that carries oxygen from your lungs to every part of your body. Your red blood cells (RBCs) are containers for hemoglobin.
Without hemoglobin, your blood cannot carry oxygen efficiently. Your tissues become starved of oxygen and cannot function well.
Your bone marrow makes hemoglobin and packs it into red blood cells. Your body needs several nutrients to create enough of this vital protein. You can tailor your diet to increase hemoglobin, using food nutrients to avoid deficiency of this crucial substance.
Hemoglobin levels of men and women are different.
The average level for men is 13.5 to 18 grams per deciliter.
The average level for women is 12 to 15 grams per deciliter. During pregnancy, hemoglobin levels fall.
Levels below these are classified as anemia. Anemia can be caused by:
- Insufficient production of hemoglobin or red blood cells
- Excessive destruction of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia).
- Blood loss, sudden or over a long period.
Reduced production of red blood cells is often the result of insufficient nutrients in your food. Your bone marrow needs plenty of raw materials and micronutrients to make hemoglobin and red blood cells.
Iron. This is the most common micronutrient deficiency worldwide. Iron deficiency is a frequent cause of anemia, especially during pregnancy.
Vitamin B12 and Vitamin B9 (Folate). These vitamins are essential for the bone marrow to produce red blood cells. Deficiency in your diet, poor absorption, or certain drugs can cause your body to be short of these vital micronutrients.
Protein. An essential component, often overlooked. If you don't eat enough protein, your body won't have enough amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of all proteins made by your body, including hemoglobin.
Hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to all your organs and tissues. You have anemia if you don't have enough of it in your blood. You may:
- Be tired all the time
- Lack energy
- Look pale
- Be breathless after even a small effort
- Have palpitations — an unpleasant awareness of your heartbeat
- Have headaches
- Experience restless legs at night
- Lose significant amounts of hair
Some foods are good natural sources of iron. Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia and is especially common in pregnancy. Iron-rich foods which can increase hemoglobin in your blood include.
- Meat, especially red meat
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach, watercress, and curly kale
- Pulses, like peas, chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, and edamame beans
- Dried fruits like raisins, apricots, and prunes
- Iron-fortified cereals and bread
Iron is present in small amounts in your food. It is essential to absorb plenty of this nutritional iron. Even though you may eat a diet rich in iron, your body may not be getting enough. This shortfall could happen if your diet includes components that block iron absorption.
If you're trying to overcome iron deficiency anemia, you should avoid:
- Milk and other dairy products
- Some cereals
Cereals may contain a lot of phytic acid, which prevents iron absorption. Check to see if your preferred grain products are possible reasons you're not absorbing sufficient iron.
On the other hand, vitamin C helps absorb iron. A glass of orange juice with your iron-rich meal will help your body get more of the iron.
A balanced diet will usually provide you with enough of both these vitamins. If you have been eating a poor diet for a long time or follow a vegan or other restricted diet, your body may not get enough of these vital nutrients.
If you have anemia because of these deficiencies, your doctor will probably prescribe injections and pills to correct it. You should also alter your diet to include foods rich in these vitamins. A good dietary intake will prevent the anemia from returning. Foods rich in Vitamin B12:
- Yeast extracts
- Dairy products
Foods rich in Folate:
- Green vegetables like peas, spinach, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
Sometimes, you may have vitamin B12 deficiency despite having plenty in your food. It could be because your intestines are unable to absorb it. This condition, called pernicious anemia, cannot be corrected by diet or oral supplements. You should meet your doctor because vitamin B12 deficiency affects your nervous system, too. Some of the effects are not reversible.
Proteins are a crucial part of your food. Protein in your food is digested and broken down into amino acids. Every cell in your body needs these building blocks to create the proteins they need.
Protein foods are a core element of a healthy diet. You must eat enough of these foods to provide enough protein to your body:
- Lean meats
- Nuts and seeds
- Soy products
- Beans, lentils, and peas
Most of the foods discussed are part of a balanced, regular diet recommended for most people. For good health, you should have a diet with adequate amounts of all the core food groups.
- Vegetables. Make sure you have a good variety.
- Fruits. Whole fruit is healthier than juice.
- Grains. A good proportion should be whole-grain.
- Dairy. Beyond the age of two years, fat-free or low-fat milk is preferred. Yogurt and cheese.
- Protein foods.
- Oils. Vegetable oils and the oil in food such as nuts and seafood.
Eating such a diet can keep your hemoglobin level high to provide plenty of oxygen to every part of your body. It will also help you maintain a healthy body weight and avoid chronic diseases.
If you eat well and still feel tired and listless or look pale, you should consult your doctor. They will run tests to determine the severity and cause of your anemia. They will prescribe treatment and supplements to reverse nutritional anemia. You should continue eating a nutrient-rich diet during and after your treatment. This will ensure you increase your hemoglobin more quickly and might be able to go off prescribed medications sooner.
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- ELIZAVETA GALITCKAIA
- National Health Service: "Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia."
- Turner J, Parsi M. Badireddy M. Statpearls, "Anemia." Statpearls publishing 2021.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Micronutrients."
- National Health Service: "Iron deficiency anaemia."
- National Health Service: "Iron-Vitamins and minerals."
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025". 9th Edition. December 2020.