Iron plan: Eat right for Gift-of-Life

Iron plan: Eat right for Gift-of-Life

December 11, 2013 ColumnsRutland Bites Tagged: anemiablood donationGift of Life Marathoniron-rich foods no comments

Foods like sweet potatoes, raisins and kale help increase the body’s iron level and ensure a successful blood donation.


In just a few days Rutland will set out to secure the national blood drive record at the 11th annual Gift-of-Life Marathon. Last year, we were just 13 pints short of achieving the 1,969 donor goal. But it was not necessarily because of a lack of donors.

In fact, people are turned away from donating for a number of reasons, and one of the most common is due to a low hemoglobin level in the blood. Fortunately, if you’re otherwise healthy, your hemoglobin level could be improved by eating more iron-rich foods.

If you’ve ever donated before, you might recall the dreaded finger prick during the screening process. If you ask me, this is the worst part. (And in the scheme of things, that’s really not all that bad, is it?) It is at this point in the process that your hemoglobin level is tested.

If your hemoglobin is unusually low — known as anemia — then you’re not making enough red blood cells to donate. This is often an indication of low iron. Fortunately, if you start adding more iron-rich foods into your diet starting right now, it’s possible to raise your iron and red blood cell count enough to successfully donate and potentially save three lives in the process.

That’s right. Adjust your diet and not only will you improve your own health, but also make a real difference for someone in desperate need of a blood donation. How’s that for motivation?

Consuming more iron-rich foods isn’t all that difficult because iron is present in a number of sources. You’ll find it in meat and eggs, seafood, many fruits and vegetables, breads, cereals and beans. A quick Google search will give you more specifics.

It is important to know that there are two different types of iron. There is heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is the most readily absorbed kind, with a 30 percent absorption rate. It is found in meat, fish and poultry. Non-heme iron is not absorbed quite as easily, with only 2-10 percent absorption rate. You’ll find this kind of iron in plant-based foods. But when you combine heme and non-heme iron foods, you increase the iron absorption all around.

Consuming foods high in vitamin C also helps your body absorb more iron. On the other hand, having coffee, tea, chocolate and high-fiber foods at the same time as your iron-rich foods can decrease the absorption. You can still have these foods, just not at the same time.

On another note, you’ll also want to avoid fatty foods near the time of your donation. Too much fat can actually interfere with disease testing that the Red Cross performs and if that can’t properly test your blood, it won’t be useful.

If you’d like to schedule an appointment for the Gift of Life Marathon Call 800-RED-CROSS or

Steve Peters is a cook, gardener and baker living in Rutland. 

Twitter: @RutlandBites