Iron Deficiency

Low iron (or low hemoglobin level) is the most common reason for temporary deferral. Here are tips that may improve your iron level. (This information is provided solely as a resource and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice.)

Iron is an important mineral our body uses to produce new red blood cells. It is also essential in helping red blood cells carry oxygen. Before each donation, your iron level is checked and must be at an acceptable level, or you will be temporarily ineligible to donate. Your iron level can generally be increased by a change in diet. Between donations, you can help your body build and replenish its iron supply by adding more iron-rich foods to your diet. For some people, diet alone is not enough. If desired, you may talk to your doctor about iron supplements or other options.
16- and 17-Year-Old Donors

Starting the 2018-2019 school year, parents of 16- and 17-year-olds who give blood at an STBTC donor room or mobile drive will receive a voucher for a free 100-day supply of iron supplements from H-E-B, along with educational material on iron-rich diets. Vouchers will be mailed with a letter addressed to parents following a student’s blood donation. Information about the importance of maintaining normal iron levels and tips for boosting those levels also will be included with the letter.

Iron and blood donation

Most of the iron in the body is contained in hemoglobin, which is part of red blood cells. Whole-blood donors lose between 200-250 milligrams of iron in a typical donation. The temporary drop in iron may have no effect, but the body needs iron to replace red blood cells. Donors can increase iron levels through a diet of iron-rich foods or by taking a daily multivitamin with at least 18 milligrams of iron for at least 60 days following a donation. For more information about iron, consult with a physician.

Foods with high sources of iron
  • Eggs, beef, poultry (turkey and chicken), and fish (perch, tuna, salmon, haddock and halibut) 
  • Iron-enriched or iron-fortified foods such as Malt-O-Meal® and breakfast cereals or bread fortified with iron
  • Vegetables such as broccoli, peas, kale and baked potatoes
  • Bean and lentils (kidney and lima beans)
  • Nuts and seeds (pumpkin seeds, sesame or squash seeds)
  • Enriched grains such as brown rice, oatmeal and cream of wheat
  • Dried fruits (prunes, dates, figs, apricots, and raisins)
Foods that may help 

Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, and should be consumed at the same time as high-iron foods. These foods are high in Vitamin C.

  • Oranges/orange juice, strawberries, tangerines, papayas and grapefruit
  • Green and red peppers
  • Vitamin C supplements
Foods that may hinder
Some foods limit your absorption of iron. You should avoid eating these foods at the same time as eating high-iron foods, or eat them at least two hours before or after the iron-rich meal so they will not decrease the iron your body absorbs.
  • Black and green tea
  • Soy products
  • Coffee, cocoa and other caffeinated drink