Maintaining Proper Iron Stores

For blood donors' own safety, proper iron stores are required to donate blood. Iron is an important component of many proteins in the human body, especially hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from our lungs to our cells. Prior to donation, a drop of blood is analyzed for its hemoglobin content, which can indicate the donor's iron status.

An unbalanced diet, impaired absorption of iron, or an increased need for the mineral can all result in iron deficiency. Adolescent girls, pregnant women, and older adults are considered at highest risk for iron deficiency.

The average recommended daily intake of iron is 8 mg per day for men and postmenopausal women. Women of childbearing age should consume at least 18 mg on average daily. Nutrient needs can be met primarily through consuming iron-rich foods.

Heme iron, from meat, poultry and fish, is absorbed two to three times more efficiently than the non-heme iron, which is found in plant sources. Foods containing iron from animal sources can increase the absorption of iron from plant-based foods if eaten together. Red meat, pork, seafood, poultry, eggs, beans, dark leafy green vegetables, nuts, dried fruit, and iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas are all good sources of iron.

In addition, vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron from dietary sources consumed at the same meal. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, strawberries, bell peppers, leafy greens and cabbage.

Finally, some foods inhibit the absorption of iron, such as coffee, tea and calcium-containing dairy products. Try to avoid eating these foods while you're consuming iron-rich products so that the iron remains fully available and ready for use by your body!

Select sources of heme iron*

Food, portion size Iron Content (mg)
Chicken liver, cooked, 3.5 oz 12.8
Beef, chuck, lean only, braised, 3 ounces 3.2
Turkey, dark meat, roasted, 3 1/2 ounces 2.3
Turkey, light meat, roasted, 3 1/2 ounces 1.6
Chicken, breast, roasted, 3 ounces 1.1
Tuna, fresh bluefin, cooked, dry heat, 3 ounces 1.1
Pork, loin, broiled, 3 ounces 0.8

Select sources of non-heme iron*

Food, portion size Iron Content (mg)
Ready-to eat cereal, 100% iron fortified, 3/4 cup 18
Lentils, boiled, 1 cup 6.6
Bagel, enriched, 1, 4-inch 5.4
Beans, kidney, boiled, 1 cup 5.2
Potato skin, 1 4.1
Tofu, raw, firm, 1/2 cup 3.4
Spinach, boiled, drained, 1/2 cup 3.2
Raisins, seedless,1/2 cup 1.5
Peanuts, dry roasted, 3 oz 0.8
  *Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

By: Megan Madden, Dietetic Intern; edited by Andrea Brekke, MPH, RD, CDN and Marissa Tantillo. MS, RD, CDN


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