Is your child getting enough Iron?

Iron is an essential nutrient for all children aged over 6 months. It is responsible for creating haemaglobin, a cell which carries oxygen around our bodies.

If your child does not have enough iron in their diet, and their stores deplete, they will often become tired, weak and irritable.

How much iron does your child need every day?

Age Daily Requirement
7-12 months 11mg
1-3 years 9mg
4-8 years 10mg
9-13 years 8mg
14-18 years (boys) 11mg
14-18 years (girls) 15mg

 

There are two dietary sources of iron – haem and non-haem iron.

Haem iron

Haem iron refers to the iron which has come from animal sources. Our bodies absorb iron from these sources easily. Some examples of haem iron sources include:

  • Meats such as beef, lamb and pork
  • Poultry such as chicken and turkey
  • Fish and seafood
  • Offal such as liver and kidney. (N.B. Offal tends to be high in vitamin A and should therefore be avoided in children under 1 year of age and only given in small amounts to older children)

 

Non-Haem Iron

Non-Haem iron refers to the iron coming from non-aminal sources. Our bodies are not as good at absorbing the iron from these sources. Some examples of non-haem iron sources include:

  • Wholegrain breads and cereals
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Legumes such as baked beans, dried peas, beans, lentils
  • Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale
  • Dried fruit such as sultanas, apricots, dates, prunes (N.B. be sure that your children are brushing their teeth well if they consume dried fruit as they can be very sticky and can lead to tooth decay if not brushed adequately)
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and nut butters (N.B. whole nuts should not be given to children younger than 5 years of age due to the risk of choking)

 

As mentioned above, non-haem iron is a bit harder for our body to absorb and usually needs to be consumed in conjunction with foods rich in vitamin C, as this improves the uptake of the non-haem iron by our bodies. Some vitamin C rich foods include:

  • Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons etc
  • Berries such as strawberries, blueberries etc
  • Raw capsicum, broccoli and cabbage
  • Tomatoes both cooked and raw

 

How can you prevent iron deficiency in your child?

  1. Ensure that they are not consuming excess amounts of cow’s milk (no more than 500-600ml/day)
  2. Aim to include some haem iron in their diet every day
  3. If following a vegetarian diet, ensure that all non-haem iron foods are combined with some vitamin C to optimise the absorption of the iron

 

How can you increase the iron in your child’s diet?

  1. Choose iron fortified breakfast cereals
  2. Add some peanut butter, pate (occasionally) to toast/crackers
  3. Add Milo or Ovaltine to milk drinks (both contain iron)
  4. Add legumes to vegetable soups
  5. Offer some dried fruit or unsalted nuts as a snack
  6. Offer cold meats as a snack or added to school lunches
  7. Aim to have a Haem-Iron food every day
  8. Give your child an iron supplement if they have been prescribed one. Note that you should never exceed the recommended dose of iron. If you notice that your child’s dietary sources of iron start to improve, let your health care practitioner know so that they can adjust the dose of any supplements.

 

If you are worried that your child’s intake of iron is inadequate, book in with one of our friendly dietitians who can assess the adequacy of your child’s intake and give you some specific ideas on how to boost their iron intake if necessary.

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