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Blood Transfusion and Conservation - Diet and Iron

Iron is a mineral that is essential for forming part of hemoglobin (red blood cells) which carries oxygen to the cells of the body. Oxygen is important for your body's cells to grow and function.

What happens if you do not get enough iron?
If the levels of iron in your body are low you may experience:

  • a feeling of being tired
  • lack of energy
  • pale skin
  • problem concentrating
  • signs of irritability
  • difficulty breathing

Why do you need a lot of iron before surgery?

  • Your body needs iron to help build new red blood cells.
  • An increase in red blood cells will be needed before surgery to allow you to participate in some parts of the blood conservation program (donation of your own blood).
  • A higher red blood cell level will allow oxygen to get to body cells and help you recover faster from your surgery.
  • It also provides an adequate amount of red blood cells in case there is bleeding during or following your surgery.

What foods should you eat?
Iron can be found in a variety of foods. There are two types of iron in foods: Heme and Non-Heme irons.

Heme iron is easily absorbed by the body and is found in foods such as organ meats (liver, kidney, heart), beef, lamb, pork, veal, poultry (dark meat), and fish or seafood.

Non-Heme iron is not as easily absorbed and is found in foods such as whole grain cereals or fortified cereals, vegetables (beans, lentils, dried peas, chard), dried fruits (raisins, apricots), seeds and nuts, breads and pasta that are whole grain or enriched.

How can you get the most iron from the food you eat?
When you eat Non-Heme iron, you should include foods that help to increase iron absorption. Foods containing vitamin C, such as fruit (strawberries, kiwi, oranges, raspberries), fruit juices, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, turnip, and foods containing Heme irons, will help in the absorption of the Non-Heme iron, when eaten at the same time.

Some combinations can include:

  • iron fortified cereal with orange juice
  • whole grain toast and strawberries
  • egg salad and fruit
  • beef with beans

Canada Food Guide - for extra dietary information

Beef Information Centre - for extra dietary information

NOTE: You should avoid tea, coffee, caffeine soft drinks, cocoa and milk (calcium) with your meals because they lower the amount of iron that is absorbed. Have these drinks in between meals.