Blood is a specialised body fluid that is essential to life. The four main components of blood are red blood cells, plasma, white blood cells and platelets.   

Keeping our blood healthy ensures that our organs and tissues can function optimally. For this reason, it is important that we provide our bodies with the nutrients that are necessary to keep our blood healthy. 

Blood has many functions, and these include:

Oxygen transport – Our blood transports oxygen as well as antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins to all of our organs and cells to support their functions.

Body temperature regulation – By absorbing and distributing heat our blood plays a role in our temperature regulation.

Infection control – Immune cells and antibodies are transported by our blood to infected areas of our bodies. When our blood is healthy, our bodies are better equipped to fight off infections so that we can recover more quickly.

Body cleanser – Our blood is involved in transporting waste products and toxins from our organs to the liver and kidneys, which act as filters so that these metabolites can be excreted.

Bleeding control – The platelets in our blood as well as clotting factors ensure that our blood clots properly if we have any bleeding.

Our blood is considered to be an organ, which actively and rapidly turns over cells. Without the right nutrients our blood production can deteriorate which increases our risk for bleeding, bruising, clotting issues, and anemia.

There are three key nutrients that are important for the production of red blood cells in our bodies. These are folic acid, vitamin B12, and iron. 

Folic acid

Folic acid supports red blood cell formation and without enough folic acid we have a higher risk of anemia. Folic acid, which regulates cell division and growth, is also important for the health of our genes and our DNA. It is especially important for pregnant women pre-conception and during pregnancy to promote optimum development of the growing fetus. Folic acid deficiencies in pregnant women can lead to an increased risk for birth defects. Foods that are rich in folic acid include green leafy vegetables, nuts, and legumes. Fruits that provide a good source of folic acid include bananas, melons, oranges, lemons, and strawberries.

Vitamin B12

Like folic acid, vitamin B12 is also essential for DNA health and is required for the production of red blood cells. Vitamin B12 is essential for the fatty coating that protects our nerves called myelin so a deficiency can cause nerve damage. It is also vital for our mood and low levels can contribute to depression. Animal products such as red meat, fish, chicken, eggs, and dairy products are rich sources of B12. People who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet are likely to be deficient in vitamin B12 and usually need to take it in supplement form.


Iron is essential for the production of haemoglobin. Nearly 70% of our iron is stored in the red blood cells as haemoglobin or as myoglobin in our muscles. Haemoglobin plays a role in transporting oxygen from the lungs to our tissues and organs. Low haemoglobin causes anemia which can cause symptoms such as breathlessness, chest pain, fatigue, pale skin, and general weakness. Iron can be included in our diets from animal and plant sources such as red meats, livers, fish, and poultry, or fortified cereals, spinach, dried prunes, dried apricots, raisins, nuts, beans, and tofu.

We can have optimal levels of each of these nutrients if we eat a balanced diet, but in some cases, people can still have deficiencies. If you suspect a deficiency or experience any of the symptoms mentioned above these levels can be tested by doing a blood test. If testing iron, it is important to do a full iron study and even a full blood count because circulating iron can appear normal, but the iron stores could be depleted.

Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 22 June 2023 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am