Logo NHC

Best Foods for Anemia and Building Blood [Infographic]

Most of us don’t think about blood as being healthy or unhealthy. However, blood, like the rest of the body, is healthiest and functions best with the proper nutrients. Read on to learn more about the symptoms of anemia, and the essential nutrients and best foods to eat for building blood.

Are You Anemic? Classic Symptoms of Anemia:

  • Fatigue, feeling tired or weak
  • Feeling dizzy, especially upon standing from a sitting position
  • Headaches, especially in the front
  • Feeling cold, especially in the hands and feet
  • Irregular heartbeat and/or chest pain
  • Pale complexion

All of these symptoms make sense since the main job of blood is to transport oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. The most common blood disorder is anemia and occurs when you don’t have enough red blood cells, or the red blood cells you do have aren’t functioning properly.

Those most at risk for iron deficiency or vitamin deficiency anemia include menstruating women, and those with intestinal disorders or absorption, chronic diseases and poor diets. Infants, young children and the elderly are also at risk.

Other anemias include hemolytic, aplastic and sickle-cell anemia; some of which can be inherited and may not be affected by nutrients at all. The most essential nutrients affecting red blood cells include iron, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folate.

Food to Eat for Building Blood Iron

Iron is the most critical nutrient affecting red blood cell production. Iron deficiency is usually from blood loss (menstruation, childbirth, internal bleeding, colitis, Crohn’s disease, etc.) or the inability to absorb iron (leaky gut, celiac disease, etc.). One visible sign of iron deficiency is a smooth tongue (atrophic glossitis). Another common outward sign is cracks (usually bilateral) in the corners of the mouth (known as cheilosis).

The easiest sources of iron to absorb are from animal sources, known as heme iron. Red meats are the richest sources of the animal proteins but all animal proteins include iron. Other good sources of iron are plant based, known as non-heme iron. Non-heme iron isn’t as easily absorbed as heme iron. Good sources include dark greens like spinach and turnip greens, legumes, whole grains, raisins, Blackstrap molasses, pumpkin seeds and other seeds. Processed foods like cereals, breads and flours are fortified with iron also. To best absorb non-heme iron, eat those foods at the same meal with foods rich in vitamin C or animal proteins. An example of an iron-rich meal is chili. Beef with kidney beans provides heme and non-heme sources of iron and the tomatoes provide vitamin C for increased iron absorption. Taking a vitamin C supplement with a meal will not increase iron absorption like vitamin C from food sources will. The current RDA for iron is from 8 mg for adult males and non-menstruating females, to 18 mg for menstruating females.

Consider an iron supplement if you have anemia. Be aware that the ferrous sulfate form of iron often causes constipation for many individuals. Chelated iron, ferrous gluconate and heme iron are known to have less side effects. Proferrin ES is heme iron and a popular supplement. Read the many reviews and see why many choose to buy Proferrin ES.

To help get more iron in your diet, check out these healthy, high-iron recipes in this Recipe Roundup of Iron Rich Recipes for Energy and Healthy Blood.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is a water-soluble vitamin necessary for growth and maintenance of almost every bodily function, including blood health and building blood. Vitamin B6 supports red blood cell metabolism and protein metabolism. Studies in humans show the bioavailability of vitamin B6 from natural sources is limited though. Oral signs of vitamin B6 deficiency include an inflamed tongue (glossitis) and cracks in the corners of the mouth.

The best food sources of vitamin B6 include fish, long-grain rice, turkey, chicken, potatoes, tomatoes, bananas, whole grains, legumes and nuts. Current RDA is 1.3 to 1.7 mg in adults. Vitamin B6 supplementation though is common at significantly higher levels as many consider the RDA to be a bare minimum.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a common deficiency, especially among vegans, the elderly and those with malabsorption issues. Oral signs of progressed vitamin B12 deficiency include a painful inflamed tongue with a fiery red appearance and mucosal ulcerations or lesions. A vitamin B12 deficiency can be extreme before any symptoms may appear.

Plant sources of vitamin B12 are rare. Vitamin B12 is found in all animal protein and is synthesized by bacteria in the stomach. Vitamin B12 supplementation may be necessary in vegans, the elderly and those with digestive problems. Digestive problems may lead to a lack of gastric intrinsic factor; a glycoprotein produced by the stomach that is necessary for vitamin B12 absorption. Vitamin B12 deficiency may also be more common in those taking acid-reducing medication such as Prilosec, as hydrochloric acid releases vitamin B12 from protein during digestion. Metformin may also reduce the absorption of vitamin B12 in about 10-30% of people.

In malabsorption issues, a vitamin B12 injection or sublingual B12 may be the best form. The methylcobalamin form of vitamin B12 is the preferred form. The current RDA of vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg and, unlike the other B vitamins, vitamin B12 is stored in the liver.


Folate is essential for preventing vitamin-related anemia, as well as heart disease, certain types of cancer, stroke and neural tube defects. Folate helps with protein metabolism and RNA/DNA production and cell division/replication. Oral signs of folate deficiency include gingivitis, cracks in the corners of the mouth and inflammation of the tongue.

Best sources of folate include long-grain rice, turkey and chicken giblets, legumes, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lettuce and other dark leafy greens. The current RDA of folate is 400 mcg for adults. If folate supplementation is necessary, look for the the L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate form or 5-MTHF rather than folic acid. Folic acid is the synthetic form and is used to fortify cereals, flours and macaroni products. Supplementation can mask clinical signs of vitamin B12 deficiency and pernicious anemia so it should be used judiciously. There also has been controversy about whether folic acid supplementation interferes with zinc absorption. However, in a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, fortification of white bread with folic acid did not appear to affect zinc absorption in a group of young women.

To Supplement or Not?

If you are anemic or think you might be, definitely take steps to improve your nutrient intake to include the foods mentioned above. It is always best to get our nutrients from foods, however, it may not always be possible in full or adequate amounts due to certain conditions. If you need to supplement, consider a B-Complex rather than isolated B vitamins, which have the potential to mask other deficiencies.

Are you one of the 26.3% of Americans who consume vegetables three or more times per day (according to the CDC)? Or are you part of the 73.7% who eat less than three vegetable servings per day? Iron and folate are both plentiful in dark, green leafy vegetables and if they’re not part of your diet, you might consider supplementing with a greens food supplement. Make it your goal to consume a minimum of three servings of vegetables per day for healthy blood!

Have you had an experience with anemia? How were you able to build your blood back to health? We’d love to hear from you!