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I get loads of questions about iron in foods for kids and it often comes up shortly after a pediatrician visit. But I often wonder if parents know why iron matters for children (and adults). So on the off chance you or another parent you know doesn’t, let’s look at some basics as well as good food sources and some helpful tips.
What you’ve probably heard about in the pediatrician’s office is that adequate iron intake can prevent anemia. Iron is integral to ensuring organs and tissues get adequate oxygen. A lack of oxygen can cause you feel tired, weak, cranky or even make your skin pale. Individuals with anemia are also prone to pica. Adequate iron intake is also necessary for optimal brain function.
If your child is eating a variety of iron-containing foods in age-appropriate servings and is otherwise healthy then a deficiency shouldn’t be high on your worry list. If however, these are foods your child struggles to eat or maybe they’re foods you don’t eat regularly, then you should make it a bigger family goal to include these foods more often.
It is worth noting that plant-based iron can be made less effective when consumed with other foods, such as calcium. Animal sources of iron are typically very well-used within the body. If your child is not a big meat eater but they will eat some of the plant sources above, be sure to combine them with a vitamin C food as this helps the plant-iron be more efficiently absorbed by the body.
Here are some of my favorite iron-friendly recipes that I use in my regular rotation:
As infants and toddlers are learning to be competent eaters and take in a variety of foods, we recommend providing an iron and vitamin D supplement.
The daily recommended allowance or RDA for iron varies by age and gender. All breastfed infants beyond four months of age and many toddlers meeting the RDA should be started on an iron supplement, usually with vitamin D and a selection of other vitamins/minerals. The most common vitamin for late infants and toddlers we see recommended is poly vi sol with iron. It’s a fine product but I find toddlers despise the taste so I typically recommend this one by novaferrum (not an ad, just what I use for my son and many of my patients).
Questions about why iron matters for children? Feel free to contact me.