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Hemoglobin and Your Health

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 to give blood.

Causes of low hemoglobin

The most common causes of a low hemoglobin count are:

  • A low-iron diet
  • Frequent blood donation
  • 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.

How to raise your hemoglobin

The best 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. For more information about hemoglobin and your health, visit the American Society of Hematology.

Heme iron sources

Boost your hemoglobin count with these sources of heme iron:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Tuna
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Shrimp
  • Halibut
  • Oysters

Non-heme iron sources

 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

Vitamin C sources

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

Foods that hinder iron absorption

 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
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