You may know of someone who has been diagnosed with anemia at one point in time and was told to take an iron supplement to improve the situation.

Anemia is a fancy way of saying your red blood cells are low in hemoglobin, whose job it is to transport oxygen to your cells. So if your hemoglobin levels are too low, it basically means your cells aren’t receiving enough oxygen to function optimally.

What is considered low?

Generally, if a blood test finds levels to be less than 13.5 g/dL in a male, and less than 12 g/dL in a female, you’re considered anemic. 

Some symptoms of anemia include fatigue and a loss of energy, shortness of breath, dizziness, leg cramps, insomnia, and an unusually fast heart beat, especially when you’re working out. 

Though the symptoms sound severe, sometimes they’re quite subtle. Many times people don’t even know their hemoglobin is low until they try to donate blood and get turned away because their count is too low!!

How is this all related to iron, you ask?

Iron helps produce hemoglobin, thus taking an iron supplement helps restore appropriate hemoglobin levels. But it’s not always that straight-forward, as sometimes low hemoglobin has nothing to do with being deficient in iron.

Sometimes, having low red blood cells/hemoglobin can mean something else is going on in your body. Many diseases—from various cancers to kidney disease to hypothyroidism and sickle cell anemia to vitamin deficiency (among many others)—all result in low hemoglobin levels, which is why it’s a good thing to look into where your hemoglobin is at. Ultimately, there are many diseases, such as the ones mentioned above, which leave your body producing fewer red blood cells (hemoglobin) than normal, or cause your body to destroy hemoglobin faster than it’s being produced. 

But don’t get all paranoid thinking you have cancer or hypothyroidism. Having low hemoglobin doesn’t always mean you’re sick or deficient, and there’s a range of acceptability in terms of what is normal. Some people just have naturally lower levels, and pregnant women often have low hemoglobin, which is totally normal and temporary. 

Normal for men is anywhere between 13.5 to 17.5 g/dL and 12 to 15.5 g/dL for women.

Further, you can become anemic if you lose a lot of blood, and I’m not talking so much blood loss you wind up in the hospital. Even a heavy menstrual cycle can cause low hemoglobin, which is, again, temporary. The point is, in some cases it’s nothing to worry about; however, other times it is…

Here are 3 simple diet-related tips to ensure your hemoglobin levels are on point. So you can donate blood, of course:

  • Eat plenty of iron-rich foods:

This includes spinach, eggs, artichokes, beans, lean meats and seafood.

  • Eat plenty of foods rich in Vitamin B6, B12, Vitamin C and folic acid:

The above all play an essential role in producing hemoglobin, especially folic acid. The body uses folate to produce heme, which is one part of hemoglobin. Without it, your red blood cells don’t mature enough and you can end up with folate-deficiency anemia. 

Eat foods that help your body absorb iron:

Consuming iron is one thing, but absorbing it is another. Vitamin A and beta-carotene helps you do this. Some foods high in Vitamin A include fish, liver, sweet potatoes and squash, and foods with high levels of beta-carotene include carrots, sweet potatoes and squash. 

Moral of the story: Eat all the healthy food. Get all the hemoglobin. And then donate blood and save all the lives. Or at least a life.