Can Vegans Donate Blood? Here’s Why I Donate Less Now…

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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.
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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):

hemoglobin levels while donating blood as a vegan

Only the first 2 data points are from before I went vegan. As far as how I’ve felt during and after giving blood, I’ve noticed no difference.

For males, you’re allowed to donate whole blood every 2-3 months, but unfortunately my hemoglobin was continually on the low side at that frequency after a while. Note that I did not take any supplements or specifically focus on iron in my diet.

After I’ve switched to donating once every 4 months, my hemoglobin is in a much better range.

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 4 months now, 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 at least a little bit. 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-fry’s.

You’ll likely find that the vitamin C component is harder to find than the iron source.

Related Questions

How Much Iron Do You Need To Consume Per Day?

The RDA for iron is just under 10 mg per day for a man, and 18 mg for a woman.

On top of that, we’re mainly eating non-heme iron on a vegan diet, 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.

What Happens If Your Hemoglobin Levels Are Low?

Even though I felt fine, there was one time on the chart I posted above where my hemoglobin was below the minimum level. I was turned away from donating on that occasion.

Do Low Hemoglobin Levels Always Mean Low Iron Levels?

Note that hemoglobin is a marker that is correlated with iron levels, but isn’t directly measuring iron levels. While low hemoglobin levels can be indicative of iron deficiency anemia, it’s important to note that low hemoglobin can have various causes, and iron deficiency is just one of them. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

About the author

Dale Cudmore

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. I've spent over 6 years as a freelance nutrition writer and researcher. During this time, I've tested over 50 vegan protein powders, and over 100 other types of vegan supplements.