Fueling the body for blood donation

By 2nd Lt. Westley Brooks, Madigan Dietetic InternJanuary 19, 2022

1-94th FA BN blood drive
The Armed Services Blood Bank Center - Pacific Northwest at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., runs a blood drive supported by 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment on Feb. ‎19, ‎2021. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Victor Shermer) VIEW ORIGINAL

MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. – Donating blood is widely considered a noble effort to help others in need by not only giving others your time, but part of yourself as well. And there is always a need.

The American Red Cross states that every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood, and over 38,000 blood donations are needed every day. The Armed Services Blood Bank Center - Pacific Northwest on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., does blood drives multiple times per week and has collected over 2,200 units of whole blood in 2021.

January is National Blood Donor Month, and it’s also a time when people are focusing on their health. It is important to realize that what you eat and drink can not only affect your own health but your ability to donate blood and recover from doing so as well.

Blood donation workers look at something known as hemoglobin, which is a protein in your blood. This protein contains iron and carries oxygen to different tissues in your body. Having oxygen available for use within your body is essential for your tissues to function properly and keep you feeling healthy.

The availability of this protein can help decide how safe it is for you to donate blood. This value needs to be at least 12.5g/dL (grams per deciliter, a measure of density) for females, and 13.0g/dL for males. If your levels are below these minimum values, then you may be told to wait until you meet the minimum to protect your own health.

Even if you can donate though, your levels will still decrease which means proper maintenance of your hemoglobin between donations is a necessity. This begs the question: how does one increase hemoglobin levels?

The easiest way to boost hemoglobin stores is to increase iron intake in your diet. Iron is part of hemoglobin and helps to create new red blood cells. Some high-iron foods include seafood, lean meats and poultry.

Not a meat-eater? That’s no problem because there are vegetarian options such as iron-fortified cereals, beans, lentils, broccoli, raisins, spinach and tofu. However, plant-based iron sources such as these are not typically absorbed as well as the iron in meat. Pairing these sources with vitamin C-rich items such as different citrus fruits or fruit juices can increase that iron absorption.

Another tip to increase your iron absorption is to avoid consuming iron-rich foods with different caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea.

In the days leading up to your donation, it is important to make sure you eat some of these iron-rich sources, drink enough water to make sure you are hydrated, and get a good night’s sleep. It is easier for the blood to be drawn from your body, and for your body to recover, if it is well-prepared in these ways for donation.

After donating blood, the American Red Cross recommends relaxing, enjoying a snack, and drinking water because your good deed has caused you to lose about one pint of blood. So, making sure you get some quick energy from a cookie and continuing to consume iron-rich foods are musts after donation.

Think you need an iron supplement? That may be recommended if you are a female donating twice or more per year, or a male donating over three times per year, according to the National Institute of Health Clinical Center.

As you prepare to donate blood, remember – drink plenty of water, eat iron-rich foods paired with vitamin C and get good rest. Following these tips can help you get back to your daily life, or even get back to the donation center if you want to keep changing lives.

For more information on nutrition related to donating blood, contact your local dietitian at Madigan Army Medical Center by dialing (253) 968-0547, or visit www.eatright.org.

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