Growing up pale in the rural areas of Jamaica means one thing, you are anaemic. The older persons had numerous self-tests that removed the need to go to the doctor for diagnosis. They would look in your bottom eyelids, if it was high pink instead of reddish, you are anaemic. If they squeezed your arm tight and the marks left were white instead of pink or red, you are anaemic. If your skin colour looked dull instead of ‘bright’, you are most definitely anaemic.
More often than not they were right, and the calaloo, cooked banana and liver diet that subsequently followed seemed to do the trick. Persons become anaemic because their body is lacking iron. Iron deficiency is the leading deficiency in most first world countries. The term for this is anaemia, something most persons associate with women because of their menstrual cycle. It is a mineral needed for healthy blood and to promote good health. Everyone needs it.
The main health benefit of a diet high in iron is the formation of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the principal carrier of oxygen throughout the body and gives the dark red color to blood. Although the elders of the rural communities were no doctors and hardly ever went beyond the ninth grade they seem to have garnered, from experience, the importance of iron. This mineral acts as a carrier of oxygen and helps transfer oxygen from one body cell to another.
This is a critical function of iron as oxygen is required by each and every body part to perform routine body functions. Since the brain uses approximately twenty percent (20%) of the oxygen in our bloodstream, the fact that iron helps supply oxygen to blood makes the mineral very important for brain health. Iron also plays a significant role in the maintenance of muscle health. Myglobin, a muscle protein, carries oxygen from hemoglobin and diffuses it throughout muscle cells. This is required for contraction of muscles.
When the body’s iron levels become severely depleted, you may get anaemia. Iron is also important in the treatment of iron deficiency anaemia and helps cure general symptoms of anaemia like fatigue, body weakness, headaches, and enhanced sensitivity to cold temperatures. A host of other chronic ailments including renal failure anaemia and predialysis anaemia are also helped by adequate iron intake.
So, it is not that our grandparents are trying to annoy us, or are filled with myths and traditions that are more embedded in our culture than they need to be. It is just that with their years of experience, they have come to learn how critical this mineral Iron is to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Before you know, we will become our grandparents walking around as anaemia police, trying to warn persons of the importance of making it a part of our daily diet.