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How To Keep Your Iron Levels Up on a Vegan (or Vegetarian) Diet

September 27, 2017 at 4:54 pm

Please note, there may be more current information available related to iron and blood donation. Visit our Iron and Blood Donation page for more. 

If you’re a vegan, or even a vegetarian, you’re probably used to tailoring your diet to make sure you get all the right nutrients you need. But if you are a vegan or vegetarian blood donor, you may have to try extra hard to make sure you keep your iron levels up so you can donate. The good news is, we are here to help! Here are some tips on how to keep your iron levels high enough to keep donating blood:

Why Iron Is Important

Iron, a mineral found in foods that we consume, combines with certain proteins to make hemoglobin in your red blood cells. The red blood cells, in turn, carry oxygen throughout your body. So it’s important when donating blood that you have a high enough iron level to ensure that your body has the number of red cells it needs to carry enough oxygen through your body.

Types of Iron (Heme vs. Non-Heme)

Iron deficiency anemia (too little iron), is a common problem. The diet of a vegan or vegetarian blood donor can make it difficult to keep your iron levels high – but contrary to popular belief, this is because of the type of iron consumed, not simply the amount.

There are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is contained in animal products, while vegan diets contain only non-heme iron. Heme iron is absorbed more easily into the body, whereas non-heme iron is not as efficiently absorbed. But don’t worry, if you choose to stay away from animal products, it is still possible to keep a high enough iron level to donate blood. You just need to be sure to consume plenty of foods rich with non-heme iron, as well as foods that will help your body absorb it.

Foods with Non-Heme Iron

Plenty of plant-based foods are rich with iron, but here are some examples with the highest amount of iron per serving:

  • Whole wheat breads, cereals, and pastas
  • Cream of Wheat
  • Bran flakes
  • Quinoa,
  • Oatmeal
  • Avocado
  • Cooked spinach
  • Cooked mushrooms
  • Baked potato
  • Legumes
  • Soybeans
  • Tofu
  • Lentils

Food That Help You Absorb Iron

Eating foods with high levels of vitamin C will help increase your body’s ability to absorb iron. Some of these foods include:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Chard
  • Broccoli
  • tomatoes
  • Red or green bell pepper
  • Kiwi
  • Grapefruit juice
  • Strawberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Papaya

You may also consider taking an iron supplement in addition to your dietary iron intake.

Foods that Hinder Iron Absorption

Some foods can actually hinder your body’s ability to absorb iron as well. Here are some examples of foods you might want to avoid:

  • Coffee
  • Tea (even decaffeinated)
  • Dairy products
  • Foods high in dietary fiber
  • Wine
  • Beer
  • Soda
  • Calcium supplements

Now that we’ve “ironed” out the kinks, you can make an appointment to donate blood! Visit or give us a call at 650-723-7831 to schedule an appointment.