Hemochromatosis is a hereditary disorder in which the body has abnormally high levels of iron. This happens because the body absorbs iron from the food we eat, in a higher quantity than required. Normally our body absorbs 10% of the iron found in a variety of foods.
However, in hemochromatosis, the person absorbs extra iron that can interfere with normal functioning of the body. In this condition the body's ability to break down the iron decreases. The excess iron gets accumulated in different organs of the body, especially pancreas, heart and liver. This extra iron build up can cause much damage to these organs.
Types of Iron
Dietary iron contained in a variety of foods is of two types; heme and non-heme iron; The main difference between these two kinds of iron lies in their absorbability. It is observed that the body does not require much effort when it comes to absorbing heme iron.
On the other hand body finds its rather difficult to absorb non-heme iron. Exclusion of foods that contain this readily absorbable form of iron (heme iron) forms the basis of this diet.
Hemochromatosis Diet - Foods to Avoid
With too much iron in the body, one certain cannot afford to have foods that have a significant amount of heme iron. Restricting or avoiding these foods forms the cornerstone of this type of diet. It is explained here:
Moreover, alcohol encourages iron absorption, which means consuming alcohol can only aggravate hemochromatosis symptoms. So, if one is serious about impairing iron absorption, stopping the habit of drinking alcohol is essential.
As the level of iron in the body is high, the patient must avoid iron supplements as well as multivitamins that contain iron. Vitamin C, although an antioxidant, increases the ability of the body to absorb iron, hence consumption of vitamin C supplements should be strictly avoided.
However, drinking vitamin C rich juices in between meals will not cause any harm. Including food in the diet that contains vitamin C, is also not a cause for worry.
Eating raw shellfish can further deteriorate the health of a hemochromatosis patient. This is because bacteria present in raw fish can cause severe infections in people with high levels of iron. However, well cooked fish or shellfish can be tolerated by the body as cooking kills the germs that cause infections.
Hemochromatosis Diet - Foods to Include
Foods that are good sources of non-heme iron and those that hinder heme iron absorption are added in this diet. It is explained here:
Vegetables and Fruits
Doctors often advice plenty of vegetables and fruits in this diet as these foods contain non-heme iron which is not easy to absorb. Vegetables like lima and kidney beans when consumed with fiber, eggs or supplemental calcium can further decrease the absorption of iron.
Especially vegetables like spinach should form an inseparable part of this diet. This is because spinach has a high concentration of oxalate, an excellent heme iron absorption inhibitor. Oxalate not only combine with iron to give ferrous oxalate, but also nullifies the usability of the iron contained in spinach.
Like to have nuts but worried about iron overload in the body. Don't be! Non-heme iron is predominantly present in nuts like almonds and Brazil nuts and so there is no harm in having them in moderation.
On the whole, animal based food products are found to be heavily loaded with heme iron. So taking these foods do not serve the purpose of reducing iron levels in the body. Opting for plant-based foods and taking the necessary treatment is certainly the best remedy to manage hemochromatosis.