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Iron Information for All Donors

What all blood donors should know about iron and hemoglobin

The American Red Cross blood collection staff routinely checks your hemoglobin level before each blood donation. A screening test measure the amount of hemoglobin from a single drop of blood obtained from a fingerstick.

It is important for blood and platelet donors to understand how hemoglobin may be affected by the level of iron in your blood. Read below to learn more detailed information.

Hemoglobin and Iron

What is hemoglobin?

Hemoglobin is a protein in your blood that contains iron and gives blood its red color. Hemoglobin carries oxygen from your lungs to nourish all the tissues in your body. The Red Cross checks your hemoglobin level before every blood donation to protect your health.  Currently, all donors must have a hemoglobin level of at least 12.5 g/dL. Effective May 2016, the criteria will be changing for male donors and will require a minimum hemoglobin level 13.0 g/dL.

If your hemoglobin is too low, you will be asked not to donate blood until your levels increase. A low hemoglobin level may be normal for you or it could be a sign of another condition such as anemia. Learn more about normal hemoglobin values. If you are concerned about your hemoglobin level, you should consult with your health-care provider.

What is iron?

Iron is an essential mineral found in our diet and is part of hemoglobin. You need iron to make new red blood cells to replace the ones lost in a blood donation. Low iron may cause anemia or make it worse.

Does the Red Cross measure my iron level before donation?

No. The Red Cross does not measure iron levels before blood donation. You can have a normal hemoglobin level and be accepted for blood donation, but still have a low iron level. The fingerstick that is done during your health history is a measure of your hemoglobin level.

How much iron do I need?

The amount of iron you need will depend on your age, gender, body type, genetics – and how often you donate blood.

How can I get more iron in my diet?

You can boost your iron level by eating foods rich in iron, eating foods that increase your body’s ability to absorb iron (such as foods high in vitamin C) and avoiding substances that block iron absorption.

Which foods have the most iron?

The amount and the type of iron contained in food is important. Food has two types of iron: heme iron and non-heme iron.

Heme iron is found in meat and animal products and is most easily absorbed by your body. Some foods with heme iron are beef, turkey (especially dark meat), chicken, lamb, pork and liver.

Non-heme iron is not as easily absorbed by your body, but is still a good source of iron and essential if you do not eat meat. Foods with non-heme iron are breakfast cereals (fortified with iron), breads and pasta (whole grain and enriched), tofu, beans, lentils, peanuts, dried fruit (raisins) and eggs.

Do other foods boost your body’s ability to use the iron?

Red meat not only contains a lot of heme iron, but also increases absorption of non-heme iron. Foods high in vitamin C, like tomatoes, oranges and other citrus fruits, and red, yellow and orange peppers, also boosts iron uptake into your body.

Do other foods decrease iron absorption?

Yes, some food and drink will decrease iron absorption like:

  • Coffee or tea
  • Red wine
  • Chocolate
  • High fiber foods
  • Some medications like antacids
  • High calcium foods (like milk or cheese)

This doesn’t mean you have to cut these out of your diet. You should consider avoiding these items with your iron-rich meals. For example, have your coffee or tea before or after the meal, but not with the meal.

Can I get too much iron in my diet?

Most people cannot get too much iron from food they eat to cause problems. Some people have a condition called hereditary hemochromatosis (iron overload), which damages their organs if it is not treated.