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Cholesterol & Iron

Blood and Your Cholesterol

High cholesterol is considered one of the three key heart disease risk factors, along with smoking and high blood pressure.

A soft fat-like substance found naturally in the body, cholesterol circulating in the blood is deposited in the inner walls of the arteries, blocking the flow of blood. Most coronary heart disease is the result of blocked arteries.

Blood cholesterol is determined by several factors, including the foods you eat and genetic makeup. The liver produces all the cholesterol your body needs, and also processes it and recycles it into other substances.

How Can You Lower Your Cholesterol?

A diet rich in vegetables, fruits and cereal grains can positively impact your level of cholesterol. Other dietary considerations include choosing fish, poultry, and lean cuts of meat, and trimming fat from meat and skin from chicken before cooking. Eating fewer eggs and less organ meats such as liver, brain and kidney will also help.

Choosing salad dressings, cooking fats and margarines from vegetable products such as corn, olive and canola oils (those containing polyunsaturated vegetable oils) may also lower the level of blood cholesterol.

To lessen your risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends limiting cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams per day, and reducing your total fat intake to about 30 percent of calories. In addition, exercise regularly, practice stress management, and do not smoke.

The Blood Center recognizes that it is important that you know your cholesterol level, so that you can make the appropriate changes necessary to improve your health. After every blood donation, you will receive a reading of your cholesterol level by mail! 

Iron Nutrition for Blood Donors 

Proper nutrition is important to maintain your body’s normal functions and overall general health.

Most of the iron in your body is found in the hemoglobin molecule of the red blood cell, responsible for carrying oxygen to the body. When you donate blood, you temporarily give up part of this valuable resource until the body has time to replace it. During the medical history interview, a drop of blood from your finger tip is collected to measure your hemoglobin. To be a blood donor, your hemoglobin must be 12.5g/dL or higher.

Two types of dietary iron:

Heme Iron 

Heme iron, the organic kind, is found in animal products, especially red meat, liver, and also in poultry and fish. The body can easily absorb approximately 15% of the iron from these sources. Although the absorption of iron from this food group is not affected by other foods in the diet, eating these foods can greatly enhance iron absorption from other sources.

Non-Heme Iron 

Non-Heme iron is found in vegetables, fruits, breads and cereals, eggs, nuts and oral iron supplements. Only about 3% of the iron from these sources can be absorbed. How well your body absorbs the iron in these food groups depends on what else is on the menu. Some foods increase iron absorption, while others interfere.

All types of red meat, fish and poultry are excellent dietary sources of iron, since iron from these sources is most easily absorbed by your body.

Most vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and grains are also good dietary sources of iron, but iron from plant sources such as these is not absorbed efficiently by your body. Vitamin C enhances iron absorption from such plant sources, so eating vitamin C-containing foods in combination with iron-rich vegetables, fruits, nuts, etc. is recommended.

Caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, soda) taken with meals can act as iron blockers, as might excess consumption of high fiber foods or bran supplements.

How to improve your iron absorption

Eat foods which enhance iron absorption when combined with foods that are non-heme iron sources:

  • Beef, poultry, fish, lamb, and veal are on the top of the list.
  • Food high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, cantaloupes,strawberries and vegetables such as cabbage, green pepper, tomatoes, and broccoli.
  • Foods containing folate, a B vitamin, such as vegetables, citrus fruits, liver, beans, and seafood.

Iron Enemies

Avoid combining the following foods with food that are non-heme iron sources:

  • Dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and milk.
  • Eggs, which contain an anti-iron factor that binds iron, also foods eaten with eggs such as toast.
  • Whole-grain breads and cereals, baked goods, and candy bars.
  • Foods high in oxalates, such as spinach.
  • Tea, coffee, wine, beer, and soft drinks.
  • Canned and processed food containing EDTA.

Click here to learn more about Iron and Iron Deficiency from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.