Q. Besides meat, what are the best blood-building foods, herbs, and supplements?

A. Blood, the liquid essence of life, requires an arsenal of nutrients to supply the body with oxygen, to rid it of waste, and to maintain general health. At certain times in life, blood requires special nutritional fortification. Adolescence, pregnancy, the postpartum period, and old age are times of "weak blood," according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Therefore, blood-building is more important for women than men, because women are subject to more life events during which it is necessary.

Particularly during times of blood loss, such as menstruation or blood volume expansion during pregnancy, the blood needs plenty of iron, calcium, potassium, and antioxidants such as selenium and vitamins A, C, and E. Some of the best blood-building foods according to TCM are beets, blackstrap molasses, salmon, cherries, red chard, kale, and sea vegetables (such as nori).

One of the first things you may try for building blood is upping your iron intake. Iron supplements, especially liquid iron, are most effective when taken along with B12 and folic acid. Iron-enhancing herbs include nettles (Urtica dioica) and alfalfa (Medicago sativa). Other iron-boosting foods include brewer's yeast, apricots, greens, soyfoods, oysters, raisins, spinach, and mushrooms. To keep blood flowing smoothly, compounds like fiery capsaicin from red chili peppers, distinctly scented allicin in garlic, and beneficial omega-3 fats in flaxseeds contain anticoagulant, blood-enhancing properties.

This Q&A was written by Victoria Shanta Retelny, RD, LD, owner of LivingWell Communications, a nutrition communications company in Chicago.