Hemoglobin, a red blood cell protein, helps carry oxygen through your blood. If you want to consume foods that increase oxygen uptake, eat nutrients that support red blood cell production. The more red blood cells you have, the more hemoglobin is available to move oxygen through your body.
Nutrients Important for Blood Cells
According to Harvard Health and the Food and Drug Administration, a variety of nutrients support blood cell production in your body. These include copper, iron, vitamin A, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, folic acid and vitamin B12.
The recommended daily values (DV) for these nutrients are:
- 2 milligrams for copper
- 18 milligrams for iron
- 5,000 international units for vitamin A
- 1.7 milligrams for riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- 20 milligrams for niacin (vitamin B3)
- 10 milligrams for vitamin B5
- 2 milligrams for vitamin B6
- 400 micrograms for folic acid (vitamin B9)
- 6 micrograms for cobalamin (vitamin B12)
Several other essential nutrients are also important for blood health. These nutrients have different roles in cardiovascular health, including supporting healthy blood vessels, blood pressure levels and blood clotting. These nutrients include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K
Although these nutrients aren't directly involved in red blood cell formation, they can still affect your blood and blood oxygen levels. For instance, a study in the June 2013 issue of the journal Clinica Chimica Acta and a study in the February 2015 issue of the AGE Journal found that insufficient vitamin D can affect hemoglobin levels and increase the risk of anemia.
Notably, the Food and Drug Administration categorizes vitamin D as a nutrient of concern, which means that most Americans don't consume sufficient amounts of this essential vitamin.
Mineral-Rich Foods for Increased Hemoglobin
Because copper, iron, vitamin A and various B-complex vitamins are directly involved in blood cell formation, foods rich in these nutrients can help increase your blood oxygen levels.
Several foods are extremely rich in copper. Just 3 ounces of beef liver has 620 percent of the DV for this nutrient, while 3 ounces of oysters have 245 percent of the DV. Salmon, Dungeness crab and turkey organs are also rich in this nutrient, with 15 to 30 percent of the DV per 3-ounce serving.
Copper is also found in plant-based foods, like chocolate, potatoes, sesame seeds, cashew nuts and shiitake mushrooms — a single ounce of chocolate can provide you with 45 percent of the DV for this nutrient.
Iron comes in two forms: heme iron and non-heme iron. Animal products like beef, lamb, duck and oysters contain heme iron, which is easier for your body to absorb. Non-heme iron is found in fruits, vegetables, grains and fortified cereals. A 6-ounce skirt steak has 52 percent of the DV for iron, while a cup of cereal has 100 percent of the DV for this nutrient.
However, be aware that the National Institutes of Health recommends consuming 1.8 times the standard amount if your iron exclusively comes from non-heme sources.
Vitamin-Rich Foods for Increased Hemoglobin
Vitamin A is similar to iron — it is found in two different forms. You can obtain this nutrient as retinoids from animal products, including dairy and eggs. Plant-based products, like sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins and spinach, contain vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene. Both animal and plant-based foods can provide you with large amounts of vitamin A; for example, half a cup of carrots has 184 percent of the DV for this nutrient, while 3 ounces of beef liver has 444 percent of the DV.
Riboflavin (vitamin B2) is easily obtained from fortified products, like cereals. Dairy, meat and shellfish are also rich in this nutrient. Three ounces of clams and beef steak each have 24 percent of the DV for riboflavin.
Niacin (vitamin B3) is richest in animal products, but can also be found in grains, nuts, seeds and other plant-based foods. Three ounces of chicken or turkey have about 50 percent of the DV for this nutrient, while the same amount of salmon or tuna have 43 percent of the DV. A cup of rice can have anything from 12 to 26 percent of the DV for niacin.
Vitamin B5 can be found in both animal and plant-based products. Foods rich in this nutrient include shiitake mushrooms, sunflower seeds, beef liver and fortified cereals. Half a cup of shiitake mushrooms has 26 percent of the DV for this nutrient.
Vitamin B6 can also be found in animal and plant-based products. Chickpeas, bananas and potatoes are all good sources of this nutrient. Three ounces of meat products, like chicken, salmon, tuna and beef liver, contain between 25 and 45 percent of the DV for vitamin B6.
Folate (vitamin B9) can be found in a variety of animal and plant-based foods. Just 3 ounces of beef liver can provide you with 54 percent of the DV for this nutrient. Spinach, legumes, avocados and Brussels sprouts are also rich in folate, with 15 to 33 percent of this nutrient per half-cup serving.
Vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal products like meat, seafood, dairy and eggs. Fish like haddock, tuna, salmon and trout have 30 to 90 percent of the DV for vitamin B12 per 3-ounce serving, while 3 ounces of beef has 23 percent of the DV. Specific mushrooms and sea vegetables are also rich plant-based sources of this nutrient.
Foods That Increase Oxygen Uptake
Certain products — specifically, plants rich in nitrate — are foods that increase oxygen uptake and improve heart health. According to a study published in the May 2012 issue of the Acta Alimentaria Journal, nitrate-rich foods can improve cardiovascular health in a variety of ways. In particular, they help decrease blood pressure and reduce the amount of oxygen required during exertion, which can improve performance in sports.
Nitrate-rich foods include:
Certain foods are so rich in nitrate that they are produced as powders or capsules that you can take instead of consuming whole fruits or vegetables. For example, beetroot is well-known for being turned into supplements that oxygenate the blood.
Be aware that beetroot supplements may be rich in nitrate, but these products can lack essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are found in the whole vegetable. These nutrients can be lost due to the processing required to turn the beetroot into a powder.
Is This an Emergency?
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin A Fact Sheet for Health Professionals"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin B12 Fact Sheet for Health Professionals"
- National Institutes of Health: "Folate Fact Sheet for Health Professionals"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin B6 Fact Sheet for Health Professionals"
- National Institutes of Health: "Pantothenic Acid Fact Sheet for Health Professionals"
- National Institutes of Health: "Niacin Fact Sheet for Health Professionals"
- National Institutes of Health: "Riboflavin Fact Sheet for Health Professionals"
- Acta Alimentaria: "Nitrate in Vegetables and Their Impact on Human Health. A Review"
- National Institutes of Health: "Iron Fact Sheet for Health Professionals"
- National Institutes of Health: "Copper Fact Sheet for Health Professionals"
- AGE: "Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Associations Between the Active Vitamin D Metabolite (1,25 Dihydroxyvitamin D) and Haemoglobin Levels in Older Australian Men: The Concord Health and Ageing in Men Project"
- Clinica Chimica Acta: "Low Vitamin D Levels Increase Anemia Risk in Korean Women"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Vitamins and Minerals Chart"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Listing of Vitamins"