Foods for Anemia: What to Eat & Avoid (plus a 3-Day Meal Plan)

Foods for anemia should be rich in protein, iron, folic acid, and B-complex vitamins, as these nutrients stimulate red blood cell production. Anemia is associated with decreased red blood cells and hemoglobin levels, and patients with anemia are encouraged to incorporate foods like meat, eggs, fish and spinach into their diet. 

Iron-deficiency anemia is more commonly diagnosed in patients with reduced mobility, children who are growing or have an inadequate diet, or women who are pregnant. Food sources with the highest concentration of iron are usually animal-based and are typically better-absorbed in the gut. However, fruits that are rich in vitamin C, like oranges, kiwi and pineapple, can enhance iron absorption in the body and should also be included in an anemia diet. 

Read more about the common symptoms of anemia and complete our online symptoms checker to assess your risk for this condition. 

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Food to eat

To treat anemia, you should eat foods that are rich in the following nutrients: 

1. Iron

Iron-rich foods are extremely important for treating iron-deficiency anemia. This mineral stimulates the production of red blood cells. 

There are two types of iron:

  • Heme iron, which comes from animal based sources like meat, chicken, fish, liver, eggs and seafood. This type is generally better-absorbed into the body. 
  • Non-heme iron, which comes from foods that are iron fortified, and fruits or vegetables, bens, nuts, eggplant and leafy greens. 

These foods should be included in your daily diet, ideally with a vitamin C source, like oranges, pineapples, strawberries, kiwis, or tangerines, so that the iron is better-absorbed. 

In addition, some studies suggest that eating foods that are rich in vitamin A can also improve iron absorption, although more studies are needed to prove this effect. 

Check out a long list of iron-rich foods so that you can incorporate many diverse sources into your diet. 

2. Folic acid

Folic acid, or vitamin B9, is needed to stimulate red blood cell production and ensure correct formation of hemoglobin (which is the substance responsible for transporting oxygen from red blood cells to the tissues).  

This micronutrient can be found in foods like spinach, kale, liver, wheat germ and eggs. 

3. Vitamin B12

A vitamin B12 deficiency can cause megaloblastic anemia, which is characterized by larger red blood cells and decreased white blood cells and platelets. This type of anemia can be prevented by regularly consuming foods that are rich in vitamin B12, like organ meat, eggs, milk and dairy products. 

Food to avoid

When treating anemia, you should avoid foods that are rich in calcium when eating iron-rich foods. Calcium decreases iron absorption in the gut. Therefore, you should avoid drinking milk at lunch or dinner, when meats and other iron-rich foods tend to be consumed. 

In addition, you should avoid drinking coffee, black tea or yerba mate during iron-rich meals, as these are rich in phytates and tannins, which also reduce iron absorption in the intestines. 

Sample meal plan

The following table outlines a 3-day meal plan for treating anemia:

Meal

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Breakfast

1 cup of coffee with milk, unsweetened + 1 slice of whole grain bread with butter 

180 ml of Greek yogurt + 1 tablespoons of flaxseeds + 3 strawberries, diced

1 cup of milk + 4 whole grain toasts with unsweetened fruit jelly  

Morning snack

1 apple + 2 walnuts 

1 pear + 3 Brazilian nuts 

1 tangerine + 3 almonds 

Lunch or dinner

120 g of grilled meat + 4 tablespoons of whole grain rice + 2 tablespoons of beans + stir-fried kale with one tablespoon of sesame seeds + 1 orange 

120 g of cow liver + 3 tablespoons of whole grain rice + 3 tablespoons of soy bean salad with tomato and inion + grilled broccoli, cauliflower, onion and tomatoes + 2 slices of pineapple 

120 g of grilled chicken + 1 ladle of whole grain pasta with homemade tomato sauce + 3 tablespoons of lentil salad with tomato and onion + salad made with coriander, lettuce and arugula + 1 cup of cashew beverage

Afternoon snack

1 Greek yogurt + 1 whole grain bun with ricotta cream cheese

1 cup of watermelon juice + 4 whole grain toasts 

1 Greek yogurt + 1 whole grain bun with butter 

The quantities outlined in this meal plan vary depending on the person’s age, sex, activity level and health history. Ideally, you should see a registered dietitian for a thorough assessment, as he or she will then be able to develop a customized meal plan that meets your health goals and nutritional necessities.

In addition to addressing your eating habits, a doctor or registered dietitian can also consider whether supplementation with iron or other micronutrients, like vitamin B12 or folic acid, is necessary.