TLDR: Vegans can donate blood, but most will not be able to do it as often due to lower hemoglobin (a marker for iron) levels.
A bit before I went vegan, I started donating blood.
I’ve continued to do so, but can’t reliably do it every 2 months (the minimum interval for males).
You lose a lot of iron when you donate blood, and vegans are already more likely to be iron deficient.
This is because iron in plants is “non-heme” iron, which is less absorbable by the body than heme iron.
Here Are What My Iron Levels Look Like as a Blood Donating Vegan
The Canadian Blood Association tests your hemoglobin levels (which correspond to iron) each time before you donate, and then lets you see them in your account.
Here are what mine look like up until this point (click to enlarge):
I wish I had more data from before, but unfortunately I do not. As far as how I’ve felt during and after giving blood, I’ve noticed no difference.
Of the 9 times in that image that I gave blood as a vegan, my hemoglobin was:
- Significantly higher 3 times
- Comparable 4 times
- Significantly lower 2 times
Vegans Need to Focus More on Raising and Recovering Their Iron Levels
There are 2 main things you should do to keep your hemoglobin levels high:
- Focused a bit more on the best vegan sources of iron. Not a huge change since I was already eating more of those regularly.
- Started eating more vitamin C alongside iron. I learned that vitamin C greatly increases how well iron is absorbed.
If you want to learn more about this, see my post on the research behind how vitamin C increases iron absorption, and how much you need.
How Often Can Vegans Donate Blood
Women already have a much higher need for iron (RDA is 18 mg of iron per day for women, and only 8 mg for men), which is why males are permitted to give blood more often in general.
You may not have any issues with low hemoglobin as a vegan, but if you do, you’ll need to start donating less. Personally, I go every 3-4 months, instead of the maximum (which is every ~2 months).
If it’s really important to you, you can also start taking a vegan iron supplement.
Conclusion: Can You Give Blood as a Vegan?
Obviously this is a sample size of 1, but I think it still illustrates that donating as a vegan is possible.
Note that it’s likely harder as a woman, since they need more iron than men.
Finally, I think it’s safe to say that you need to pay attention to your iron intake. As an omnivore, it’s not a big issue, but as a vegan, your iron intake can be an issue.
Familiarize yourself with foods high in iron, and try to incorporate the best vegan sources of vitamin C with iron-rich sources.
Some of my favorite pairings are:
- Oatmeal + strawberries
- Legumes (beans, lentils) + spinach
- Legumes + red bell pepper/broccoli/peas in stir-frys.
You’ll likely find that the vitamin C component is harder to find than the iron source.
You’ll Need More Iron Than You Think
The RDA for iron is just under 10 mg per day for a man, and even more for a woman.
On top of that, we’re mainly eating non-heme iron, which doesn’t absorb as well, even if you pair it with vitamin C.
On top of that, your body only absorbs a fraction (estimate is usually around 25%) of the iron you ingest. It’s why it takes 8-12 weeks after taking an iron supplement to start feeling better.
So if you have a deficiency (and donating blood can give you a small deficiency that you need to correct), possibly indicated by low hemoglobin levels, you need to eat a lot of iron for a relatively long time to get back to normal levels.