Low Hemoglobin levels – Parenting tips

For non-vegetarians meat products are filled with iron that helps keep up hemoglobin levels. What can vegetarians eat to reduce the risk of anemia? As a parent, knowing and including these foods in the diet helps reduce many health complications in future.

Anemia (low hemoglobin levels) is one the root cause of many health complications. Body’s ability to process iron is a critical indicator of health levels in some countries. A quick health checkup where a basic blood test is taken has the hemoglobin indicator included in it.

So, as a parent how do we avoid our children becoming anemic? While there are many complex health conditions that we cannot avoid nor predict as a parent, there are some daily food habits and diet that can help us prevent normal children from becoming anemic over a period of time.

For non-vegetarians

Meat is a good source of iron. So, meat eaters in general do not come up as anemic / low hemoglobin levels unless there is an underlying root cause or issue. When they switch to vegan or vegetarian diet, their cells in the body that is used to absorbing iron from meat finds it hard to do so from other natural sources (which are comparatively low and harder to process). So, supplementing would be a good choice that they might need to consider. In rural areas, soup made from the leg of mutton is said to help build back the iron levels in the body.

For vegetarians,

  1. Good source of iron is mixed nuts – walnuts, almonds, cashewnuts, pumpkin seeds etc. They are high in iron. Mixing them with salads or eating it twice/thrice a week would be a good constant source.
  2. Sesame seeds – White or black sesame seeds, both of them are a good source and including them in the diet helps. Some cultures include these in their entrees (as seasoning in many dishes)
  3. Spinach – Spinach and some greens are good source of Iron as well. Include them in salads or smoothies (add a banana or berries to make it tastier :))
  4. Legumes – Bean varieties (kidney beans, red beans, black beans, white beans, black eyed beans, lima etc) are all good sources of iron. Chickpeas is good as well.
  5. Lack of vitamin B12 typically hinders the absorption of iron. Not many vegetarian foods have B12 supplement at high levels. Some brands of milk are Vitamin B12 fortified – Lactaid milk is one of them. Including it periodically in your diet helps boost your B12 levels.

As a parent, ensuring these foods are included in their weekly meals helps create a balance and aids in long term health benefits.

How to find out if you/your child is low in hemoglobin?

  1. Tiredness is a clear indicator – Child feels tired more often. Adults experience it as a fatigue.
  2. Paleness in nails – Nails / palms when pressed will not be pink, but will look pale. Face might also show paleness
  3. Picky eating habits – Children who are picky eaters, leave their vegetables, do not complete the food in their plates, might not be getting the complete nutrition benefits. When they are young, swap their meals with a smoothie or soups to ensure all healthy ingredients are included and are being absorbed by the body.
  4. Pregnant women need extra iron during their pregnancy. Most gynecologists recommend iron supplements during the same.
  5. White discharge during puberty or menopause might also indicate low iron levels. Supplementing or changing dietary habits significantly help.
  6. Irregular or heavy periods
  7. Frequent Headaches or dizzy spells

Periodic health checkup and checking hemoglobin levels, and a balanced diet helps a great deal to ensure their overall growth. Too much of iron content in the body causes constipation for many. So, if you have been having supplements frequently, it might be time to check your levels.

Last but not the least, during my teens, I did not have any symptoms above and yet had low hemoglobin levels. I was normally going to school and was able to take my exams and participate in competitions, while my hemoglobin went as low as 4.5. Below 8, the individual finds it difficult to lift themselves and walk straight (what I was told at the physician office). When my parents were on the verge of giving up and bought a lot of nuts and made me eat it, my hemoglobin levels increased overnight bringing it up to 5.3. My hematologist then realized the underlying reason was that I was being given a wrong dosage of medicines to treat some other conditions which was impacting my current iron levels. Yes, medication has a significant impact on iron levels. So, understanding what you are having and their side effects helps. So, as a parent, understanding your child, their nutrition habits, their activities, eating habits, medications, environment etc and taking a holistic look helps in figuring out a natural way to heal.

This post is not intended to substitute medical advice. Please consult your physician if you feel your symptoms need a formal evaluation.

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