Iron and your blood
Haemoglobin and Iron
Every time you go to give blood or platelets your haemoglobin levels will be checked (the protein found in the red blood cells that carries oxygen around your body and gives blood its red colour). This is performed using a finger prick test and is to ensure these levels do not drop below normal after donation. Haemoglobin levels vary from person to person though men usually have higher levels than women. If your iron stores are low, haemoglobin may fall below normal and you will be unable to donate, however, we do encourage you to add some iron rich foods to your diet and come back to try again in the future.
The Importance of Getting Enough Iron in Your Diet
The human body needs iron to make the oxygen-carrying proteins haemoglobin (found in red blood cells) and myoglobin (found in muscles). If your need for dietary iron isn’t met, your body’s iron stores will decline over time which can cause:
Iron depletion – A reduction in haemoglobin levels. When tested they appear normal however the storage of iron has reduced. This stage has no obvious symptoms.
Iron deficiency – Iron storage levels have become substantially reduced, and haemoglobin synthesis begins to be affected which may cause you to feel tired. Eating enough iron-rich foods in your daily diet can minimise your risk for iron deficiency.
Iron deficiency anaemia – develops when iron stores are insufficient to maintain haemoglobin production which may cause a person to experience weakness, fatigue, dizzy and breathless. Those with Iron deficiency anaemia are in need of replenishment to avoid further symptoms and complications.
There Are Two Types Of Iron Found In Food
Heme Iron: found in meat, fish and poultry, and is the form of iron that is most readily absorbed by your body.
Non-Heme Iron: Found in plant-based foods and fortified grain products. Non-heme foods are not as easily absorbed into the body as heme iron. Foods high in vitamin C can help with the absorption of non-heme iron.
Think You May Be Low In Iron?
See your doctor for a check up. If you are thinking about taking an iron supplement, it is important to discuss this with your doctor as it may interfere with certain medications. If supplementation is suggested, only take as recommended by your doctor.
What Can I Do To Improve My Haemoglobin Levels Prior To Donation?
Try adding these iron-rich foods to your diet:
- Meat/seafood/poultry: Beef, lamb, oysters, mussels, chicken liver, eggs
- Vegetables: Leafy greens (spinach, swiss chard, rocket) broccoli, mushrooms, beetroot, potatoes
- Fruit: Strawberries, watermelon, coconut, raisins, figs, dried apricots
- Fortified foods: Fortified cereals, bread, rice, and pasta
- Nuts and seeds: Cashew, almonds, hazelnuts, seeds: (pumpkin, sunflower)
- Beans/legumes: Beans, soybeans, kidney, black, mung) and lentils
- Other: Tofu, dark chocolate, oats
Remember: Fruits and vegetables can also be a good source of iron and vitamin C rich foods can help increase the absorption of iron into the body