There's perhaps no greater, or more personal, gift you can give than that of your own blood. During earthquakes, floods, fires, and other natural disasters, survivors depend on your contribution for speedy treatment. And in many cases, it can literally mean the difference between life and death.

That said, donating blood can be a daunting task for some, as many people fear needles and the sight of their own blood. But according to the American Red Cross (ACR), the process doesn't have to be scary or uncomfortable. The ACR recommends these simple guidelines to get started.

Blood Donation Dos

  • Eat foods high in iron a few hours before donating to ensure that your iron count is high. These include whole grains, red meat, eggs, and dark, leafy vegetables such as spinach. The vitamin C in orange juice also helps increase iron absorption.
  • Having a light-hearted conversation with the person administering your donation can help to distract you. Pinch yourself while the needle is going in, and have something to chew on, such as gum, to take your mind off the needle. Recite something from memory, or sing a song while the blood is being drawn. Before you know it, the process will be over.
  • Have a snack after the donation. All centers provide fruit juice and sugary snacks to get your blood sugar back up to a normal level. Be sure to have the juice and cookies, and rest in the center while you eat.
  • Make sure your next meal is high in protein. Also remember to consume fruits and vegetables and drink lots of water, as the combination will help your body to create new blood right away.
  • Rest for the remainder of the day. Don't plan a trip to the gym or to the dance club later. Instead, try to rest as you would if you were trying to get over a bad cold. Read, see a movie, or work on the computer, but don't push yourself too hard.

Blood Donation Don'ts

  • Don't consume caffeinated beverages before donating. While it's important to drink plenty of fluids beforehand, caffeinated drinks are diuretics, which will make the body expel more water. Stick with water instead.
  • Don't eat fatty foods prior to the process. The fat in fast foods, for example, can interfere with the blood screening done after the donation, causing the blood to be disposed of, and you don't want your donation to go to waste.
  • Don't donate on an empty stomach. Eat a good breakfast to keep your blood sugar stable and to ward off lightheadedness. Don't eat too close to donation time, however, as this may result in an upset stomach.
  • Don't donate if you weigh less than 110 pounds or if you're younger than 17 years of age.
  • Don't drive yourself home from the donation center. Afterward, the body often feels weak, and you may become faint or even fall asleep while driving. Plan to visit the center with a friend or relative so they can help after the process is over.