Hemoglobin and Your Health

iron and hemoglobinDid you know?

Most of the iron in your body is found in the hemoglobin molecule of your red blood cells. For the safety of both donor and patient, your hemoglobin level must be at least 12.5 g/dL for women and 13.0 g/dL for men and nonbinary donors to give blood. The most common causes of a low hemoglobin count are a low-iron diet, frequent blood donation, and menstrual blood loss. Other less likely but more serious causes of low hemoglobin include arthritis, diabetes, kidney disease, stomach ulcers, colon cancer, medications, and other diseases of the digestive tract. Consult your doctor if you want to rule out these possibilities.

A great way to get enough iron is to have a healthy, well-balanced diet. Heme iron, found in meat, fish, and poultry is more easily absorbed by the body than non-heme iron, which is found in plant sources. The absorption of iron from non-heme sources is enhanced when vitamin C is eaten at the same meal or snack. Conversely, some foods hinder the absorption of iron. Additionally, taking a daily supplement or multivitamin containing 18 mg of iron can help ensure you are getting enough iron. Visit our Iron and Blood Donation page to learn more.

For more information about hemoglobin and your health, visit hematology.org.

Boost your hemoglobin count with these sources of heme iron:

  • beef
  • chicken
  • tuna
  • pork
  • lamb
  • shrimp
  • halibut
  • oysters

These sources of non-heme iron are a big help, too:

  • Cream of Wheat
  • beans
  • nuts
  • cooked spinach, asparagus, and green beans
  • potatoes
  • avocado
  • dried apricots
  • dates
  • raisins
  • whole wheat bread, cereals, and pastas
  • breads fortified with extra iron
  • iron supplements
  • anything prepared in iron cookware

These sources of vitamin C help your body absorb non-heme iron:

  • citrus fruits
  • tomatoes
  • red or green bell pepper
  • kiwi
  • grapefruit juice
  • broccoli
  • strawberries
  • cantaloupe
  • papaya

These foods will hinder your body’s ability to absorb iron:

  • coffee
  • tea (even decaffeinated)
  • dairy products
  • foods high in dietary fiber
  • wine
  • beer
  • colas
  • calcium supplements