I’ve been a blood donor for years. I enjoy knowing that in a quick 30 minutes, I can make a difference in someone’s life. According to the American Red Cross, a single donation can actually save up to three lives. That makes blood donation a no-brainer in my book!

JCPL hosts blood drives from the American Red Cross at many of our branches. I personally coordinate four or five drives at the White River Branch each year, and I make certain to schedule time to donate at each one. We hosted a drive a few weeks ago. As a donor, I prepared by trying to be more mindful of eating iron-rich foods and drinking extra water before my appointment.

However, the mini-physical conducted right before the blood draw revealed that my hemoglobin levels were too low. That meant I was “deferred” and could not donate. I was disappointed and a bit embarrassed. I felt that I had let down someone who was depending on my donation. The Red Cross staff was very nice and gave me pointers for how to better prepare next time. Of course, being a librarian, I researched this further for a better understanding of how to avoid future deferrals. Much of what I found was review, but some things were new.

First, a bit of knowledge on our blood. The major role of our blood is to transport everything our cells need or produce, such as: oxygen, hormones, vitamins, nutrients and wastes. Our blood is made up of three main components: 54 percent plasma, 45 percent red blood cells and 1 percent white blood cells and platelets. Red blood cells carry most of the oxygen; these cells are packed with a colored protein called hemoglobin. Oxygen must bind to iron atoms in the hemoglobin to be absorbed into the blood. A lack of iron means less oxygen will be available to our cells. Every cell in our body requires oxygen to produce the energy needed for our bodily functions. A lack of iron can result in cells that do not function properly. This could lead to a variety of ailments or symptoms, such as: extreme fatigue, weakness, pale skin, cold hands and brittle nails. Iron levels can be affected by many things, such as: diet, pregnancy, cancer, excessive bleeding and aging. So, there are many variables.

The true cause of chronic low iron is best diagnosed by a doctor. However, there are important things we can do to prevent occasional issues. Since iron is not made in the body and must be absorbed from what we eat, our diets can play a big role in our iron levels. There are two kinds of dietary iron: heme iron, which comes from animal protein; and nonheme iron which is found in plant-based foods and animal products such as eggs or milk. Heme iron is more easily absorbed than nonheme iron.

Foods that are high in heme iron include:

• Liver (beef and chicken)

• Oysters, clams, mollusks and mussels

• Beef

• Canned sardines

• Turkey

• Chicken

• Fish (halibut, haddock, salmon, tuna)

Foods that are high in nonheme iron include:lid

• Spinach (cooked)

• Seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds)

• Firm tofu

• Beans and lentils (garbanzo beans, white beans, red kidney beans, soybeans, black beans, lima)

• Fortified breakfast cereals

• Baked potato with skin

• Prune juice

• Dried fruits (raisins, apricots, etc.)

• Nuts (cashews, almonds, pistachios, etc.)

Something new I learned is that our bodies’ ability to absorb iron can be helped or hindered by the food combinations at our iron-rich meal. For instance, eating high amounts of calcium in the same meal as iron rich foods can inhibit your body’s iron absorption. It is also best to avoid drinking tea or coffee with iron-rich foods. Eating foods that contain vitamin C with foods high in iron, or combining heme with nonheme sources, will maximize the iron uptake.

I now have a better understanding of the importance of iron in my diet. I hope it has helped you, too. I also feel better equipped to prepare for my next blood donation. If you are interested in being a blood donor and meet the requirements, please consider attending one of our upcoming drives:

Saturday, June 23, 11,a.m. -3 p.m. at the Trafalgar Branch

Wednesday, June 27, 2-6 p.m. at the Franklin Branch

Tuesday, Aug. 7, 9:30 a.m.- 2:30 p.m. at the White River Branch

Appointments for these and other area blood drives can be made by contacting the American Red Cross online or by calling 800-RED-CROSS (800-733-2767). Thanks for helping to save lives! That makes you a true Ironman (or woman!), in my book!

Until next time,

Linda is the White River Branch Manager and leader of our staff wellness team. Staying healthy and keeping fit are keen interests of Linda. Her goal is to enable others to live a healthy lifestyle through good nutrition, physical fitness and a positive outlook, although (shhhhh) she does confess a weakness for potato chips and Cheetos!

Join the conversation at linda@jcplin.org 

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