1. You get to find out your hemoglobin level for free. Hemoglobin is the iron-containing protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. The normal range for women is 12.1-15.1 grams per deciliter (g/dL), and for men is 13.8-17.2 g/dL. Plant-based foods rich in iron include dark, leafy greens (especially spinach and collards), beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, artichokes, and iron-enriched cereals, especially Cream of Wheat (check out the new whole-grain Cream of Wheat!). To maximize absorption of iron, combine iron-rich foods with foods rich in vitamin C (e.g., citrus fruits or tomatoes). Avoid having coffee or tea (even decaffeinated), calcium supplements, or foods rich in fiber within 2 hours of consuming foods rich in iron, as these interfere with iron absorption.
2. You get to find out if you have hypertension. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, requires the heart to work harder to circulate blood through arteries and vessels. Hypertension is a major risk factor for stroke, heart attack, and aneurysm, and is associated with a shortened life expectancy.
Blood pressure rises with every heartbeat (contraction of the heart) and falls between beats. The top number (systolic) measures pressure when the heart beats (contracts); the bottom number (diastolic) measures blood pressure when the heart relaxes between beats. The American Heart Association recommendation for healthy blood pressure is below 120/80, meaning below both 120 systolic and 80 diastolic.
3. You get to learn your blood type. There are four major blood types: Type A, Type B, Type AB, and Type O (each can be positive or negative). Someone with Type A blood (A antigens) can receive Type A or O; someone with Type B blood (B antigens) can receive Type B or O; someone with Type AB blood (both A and B antigens) can receive any blood type (A, B, AB, or O); and someone with Type O blood (neither A nor B antigens) can only receive Type O. All blood types can receive Type O blood, making it the universal donor. Type A plasma has B antibodies that recognize and attack B antigens present in both Type B and Type AB blood, which can be life threatening. That's why a Type A person cannot receive Type B or Type AB blood. Likewise, Type B plasma has A antibodies that recognize and attack A antigens present in both Type A and Type AB blood. A Type B person cannot receive Type A or Type AB blood. Type AB plasma has neither A nor B antibodies, so it doesn't recognize Type A or Type B as foreign blood and can receive both. It can receive Type O blood because Type O blood has no antigens. Type O plasma, on the other hand, has both A and B antibodies and will recognize and attack Type A, Type B, or Type AB blood, which is why a Type O person can only receive Type O blood.
4. You may get to find out your cholesterol level for free! Some blood donation centers will reward you for donating blood by allowing you to have your blood screened for total blood cholesterol. You may even be allowed to get a full lipid panel (fasting, HDL (good cholesterol), LDL (bad cholesterol), total blood cholesterol, triglycerides (fatty acids in your blood)), and possibly blood glucose. This is a great way to track the impact of any changes in diet, exercise, or lifestyle by getting these measurements taken more frequently than most health insurance plans allow. High cholesterol increases risk of chronic degenerative diseases, including heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends a fasting total blood cholesterol level below 200 as normal. It's not unusual to have a total blood cholesterol level below 150 on a whole, plant-based diet, making you "heart-attack proof". According to Physician Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., M.D., no heart attack has ever been reported with a total blood cholesterol level below 150!
5. The blood that you donate may just save someone's life.