Iron and Your Child

Iron is a nutrient that is important for your child’s health. Iron in red blood cells carries oxygen to all parts of the body. When children don't get enough iron, they may look pale, act cranky, and not have much energy. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutritional problem children have. The problem with iron is that it is difficult for the body to absorb. Iron in meat, poultry, and fish is absorbed several times better than iron from vegetable sources. Animal protein contains something called meat factor, which improves absorption of vegetable iron eaten at the same time as meat. Vitamin C helps iron absorption, too. If your child eats foods rich in vitamin C at the same time as foods rich in iron, the iron will be absorbed better. Examples of meals that have both meat and vitamin C include hamburgers and coleslaw, spaghetti with meat and tomato sauce, hot dogs and orange wedges, and chicken with broccoli. This article has a bunch of information about iron and your child including how much he or she needs and the best way to get iron.

Plant sources of iron* (offer 5-6 or more child-sized servings each day)

1 child-sized serving = 1/4-1/2 cup or 1/2 slice

  • Instant enriched oatmeal, cream of wheat (available on WIC)
  • Iron fortified cereal (WIC cereals)
  • Beans, tofu, lentils, split peas
  • Blackstrap molasses)
  • Sunflower seeds, roasted soybeans, or nuts -child must be able to chew well
  • Prune juice
  • Dried apricots, prunes, figs, and raisins
  • Dark green vegetables (broccoli, peas, spinach, bok choy, leafy greens)
  • Whole grain foods (brown rice, oats, whole wheat bread)
  • Enriched grains (pasta, breads, bagels)

*The iron from plant sources is absorbed and used better when you eat meat or a vitamin C food with them.

Animal Sources of Iron (offer 1-3 child-sized servings most days)

  • 1 child-sized serving = 1 - 2 ounces (1 ounce is about the of 4 dice)
  • Beef, pork, lamb, veal, turkey*
  • Clams, mussels, shrimp
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Egg Yolk**

*Meats can be hard for young children to chew. Keep them moist & tender. Serve them in stews, soups, & casseroles. Slice very thinly for sandwiches or finger foods.

**Iron in egg yolk is not absorbed well. Serve with a vitamin C food.

How can you get enough iron?

  • Eat foods with iron.
  • Eat foods fortified or enriched with iron.
  • Take a vitamin and mineral supplement with iron.
Iron Supplements

Not everyone needs an iron supplement. If you are pregnant, in your childbearing years, or have a child that you suspect may not be getting enough iron from his or her diet, ask your healthcare provider to check for iron deficiency. Men and postmenopausal women should only Take iron supplements when prescribed by a physician because of a greater risk of iron overload.

Some foods rich in Vitamin C

  • Tomatoes
  • Broccoli and most vegetables have vitamin C
  • Most fruits have vitamin C
  • Bell peppers (green, yellow, red, or orange)
  • Any 100% fruit juice—remember to keep it to no more that about 4–6 ounces per day.
What is Iron Deficiency?

Iron deficiency is when the body’s stores of iron are running out. This can be a problem for toddlers, young woman that have very heavy periods, or pregnant woman that have had several pregnancies close together. Iron deficiency can affect a child’s growth and may lead to learning and behavioral problems. Why are toddlers at risk for iron deficiency or anemia? Toddlers are at risk for a couple of reasons. When they are babies (up to 12 months of age) they are getting breast milk (usually pretty high in iron), iron-fortified formula, and iron-fortified infant cereal (the dry cereal in a box). Once they turn one year of age, most babies drink cow’s milk. Drinking too much cow’s milk can put your toddler at risk of developing iron deficiency. Here’s why:

  • Cow’s milk is low in iron.
  • Toddlers who drink a lot of cow’s milk may be less hungry and less likely to eat iron-rich foods.
  • Milk decreases the absorption of iron.

How much milk does my toddler need?

Once your child is one year old he or she only needs about 2 cups of milk per day. The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends using whole milk to age 2. If this is a concern of yours, speak to your doctor. If your baby drinks about 2 cups (16 ounces) of milk per day he will get the amount of calcium and vitamin D he needs and have plenty of tummy room for his meals and snacks. Keep track of how much milk your toddler is drinking. He only needs about 2 cups per day. Too much milk can lead to iron deficiency.

Pregnant woman need iron too!

Pregnant women need lots of iron especially in the 2nd and 3rd trimester of their pregnancy. Iron deficient anemia is associated with a two fold increase in premature delivery and a three fold increase in low birth weight. Take your prenatal vitamin!! If you are nauseous try taking your vitamin after lunch. Keep trying to take your vitamin. It is important to have a healthy, happy baby.

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From your nutritionist, Ann