Investing in early childhood nutrition is a surefire strategy. The returns are incredibly high.
What is the Importance of Iron for children?
Our child’s body requires iron to make haemoglobin. The haemoglobin takes oxygen through the blood to all the organs and cells of their body. It is also responsible for giving colour to red blood cells.
When kids don’t have enough iron, the red blood cells become small and pale. They are not capable of carrying enough oxygen to your body’s organs and muscles. Babies and children need iron for their brains to develop normally.
These promising and 100% reliable iron nutrition facts for your children will prove a stepping stone; to help you protect them from Iron deficiencies & Anaemia forever.
How much Iron does your Child need?
Kids are born with a reserve of iron. This reserve of iron comes from the mother’s blood while they are in the womb.
- For the first 6 months, babies taking breastfeed will get an adequate amount of iron from their mother’s milk. If breastfeeding is not an option, a mother can also opt for iron-fortified infant formula for the first 9 to 12 months. But do keep in mind that formula should be cow’s milk-based.
- Once your baby starts eating solid foods, the amount of iron they need depends on his/her age.
- Infants ages between 7–12 months need 11 milligrams of iron a day.
- Toddlers ages 1–3 years need 7 milligrams of iron each day.
- Kids ages 4–8 years need 10 milligrams while older kids ages 9–13 years need 8 milligrams.
- Teen boys should take 11 milligrams of iron a day and teen girls should take 15 milligrams.
- If your child is an athlete and indulges in intense exercises, he/she tends to lose more iron and needs an extra amount of iron in the diet.
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How to increase Iron in a Child’s diet?
Iron can be added to your child’s diet by introducing some specific iron-rich foods in it. These foods can be added in different forms and different combinations. Our only motive is to give iron to our kids.
Iron is classified into two types:
- Heme iron – found in meats, is more easily absorbed by the body.
- Non-heme iron – comes from plant sources like legumes, vegetables, and cereals.
Here are some popular Iron Rich Foods:
- Meats: Beef, lamb, pork, veal, liver, chicken, turkey.
- Fish: Babies under 1 year old should not eat shellfish such as lobster, shrimp, or scallops.
- Eggs: Do not give egg whites to babies under 1 year old.
- Grains and cereals: Iron-fortified cereals, whole-grain bread, enriched bread, pasta, and rice.
Other Vegetarian Iron Rich Food Sources:
- Legumes: chickpeas, lentils, dried peas, and beans.
- Vegetables: spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green peas, beans.
Someone has to stand up and say the answer isn’t another pill. The answer is spinach.
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A Quick Tip:
To make your child’s body absorb even more iron, combine the above foods with good sources of vitamin C, such as oranges, tomatoes, and red peppers.
For example, serve an iron-fortified breakfast cereal with a glass of orange juice or you can add red pepper with some vegetables. These combinations will give the kid different tastes and more of iron.
Warning for All the Parents:
Avoid serving coffee or tea to your child at mealtime. They both contain tannins that decrease the way the body absorbs iron.
What is Iron Deficiency?
Iron deficiency occurs when the child’s body lacks iron. It can be a problem for some kids, especially for toddlers and teens.
Teen girls who have very heavy flow periods usually face a problem of iron deficiency. It has been seen that many teenage girls are at the risk of iron deficiency, even if they have normal periods.
This is because they are not consuming a diet with enough iron to compensate for the loss of blood during menstruation.
Kids after the age of 1 year are at risk for iron deficiency. This happens because they no longer drink iron-fortified formula. They are also not eating enough iron-rich foods to bridge the gap.
Iron deficiency can affect the growth and development of children. It may result in learning and behavioural problems in kids.
If iron deficiency is increased to an extent, then it may also result in iron-deficiency anaemia. It is a reduction in the number of red blood cells in the body.
Iron deficiency anaemia is common among children. It happens when haemoglobin in the blood is less than the adequate level.
What are the Prime Reasons for Iron Deficiency in Kids?
Iron deficiency usually occurs for three main reasons:
1. Poor diet
Kids are at higher risk for iron deficiency because of their higher requirement of iron. In simple words, a diet that’s poor in iron rich foods can lead to iron deficiency.
All the parents out there, please don’t give an overdose of milk to your kids.
A diet that contains an excess amount of milk, which is a poor source of iron, can put your child at high risk for iron deficiency. As they won’t eat anything else if they feel full.
2. Loss of blood
Causes of blood loss can happen because of stomach ulcers, chronic bowel inflammation, or a parasitic infestation like hookworm. This blood loss can also lead to iron deficiency in the body.
3. The inability of a child’s body to absorb adequate iron from food.
This can occur with conditions such as Celiac disease or Crohn’s disease. In such cases, the body does not absorb iron adequately even after the required supply of iron is given.
Who is at the Risk of Iron Deficiency?
Anyone with a low intake of iron is at the risk but infants and children at the highest risk of iron deficiency. It includes:
- Premature babies – babies that are born before time or have a low weight at the time of birth are more prone to iron deficiency.
- Babies who drink cow’s milk or goat’s milk before the age of 1 year.
- Babies who are taking Breast-fed after 6 months but are not given any complementary foods containing iron. This happens because only the mother’s milk cannot fulfil their iron requirements.
- Babies who drink formula that isn’t fortified with iron. It is recommended to give your child iron fortified formula so that they do not face the problem of iron deficiency.
- It is advised for children ages 1 to 5 years to drink up to 700 millilitres of cow’s or goat’s milk or soy milk per day. But kids consuming more than this are at the risk of iron deficiency.
- Children who have certain health conditions, such as chronic infections or restricted diets are also prone to iron deficiency.
- Children who have been exposed to lead have possibilities of deficiency of iron.
- Overweight or obese kids can also face this problem of iron deficiency.
- Adolescent girls also are at higher risk of iron deficiency because their bodies lose iron through blood during menstruation.
Signs and Symptoms of Iron Deficiency in Children
A low level of iron in the body can harm your child’s ability to function properly. Though most of the signs and symptoms of iron deficiency in children does not appear until iron deficiency anaemia occurs.
Few signs and symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia may include:
- Pale or sallow (yellow) skin of the child.
- Even the cheeks and lips of the kid start looking pale.
- The Lining of the eyelids and the nail beds that are pink in colour starts looking less pink than normal.
- The child starts feeling irritating.
- The child may not feel the strength in the body and start feeling little weakness.
- The child will require frequent naps as he/she will get tired easily.
- Children experiencing red blood cell destruction may catch jaundice. The skin and eyes look yellow in colour in jaundice. The urine colour also changes to dark tea or cola coloured.
Children with severe iron deficiency anaemia may have additional signs and symptoms:
- Shortness of breath or unease in breathing.
- The heart rate becomes fast.
- The hand and feet of the child become swollen.
- The child may face severe and frequent headaches.
- The child may feel Dizziness and fainting some time.
- The legs and feet of the child gets very restless.
Diagnosis of Iron Deficiency
Mostly iron deficiency anaemia is diagnosed with simple blood tests. Regular iron deficiency screening is done because it is common in children and they often have no signs and symptoms.
The AAP recommends that iron deficiency anaemia screening is done with a haemoglobin blood test for all infants at 12 months of age. This screening should also include a risk assessment of the child. It includes questions to find risk factors for iron-deficiency.
Risk factors include questions regarding feeding problems, poor growth, and special healthcare needs. If the haemoglobin level is low, more blood tests are done.
Some Blood tests Recommended for Iron Deficiency are:
1. Haemoglobin and Haematocrit Test
This test is usually the first screening test for anaemia in children. It measures the amount of haemoglobin and red blood cells in the blood of a child.
2. Complete Blood Count (CBC) Test
A complete blood count monitors the number of red and white blood cells, blood clotting cells (platelets). It also comprises of haemoglobin and hematocrit and more details about the red blood cells.
3. Peripheral Smear Test
In this test, a small sample of blood is examined under a microscope. Blood cells are checked to see if they look normal or not.
4. Iron Studies
Blood tests can be done to measure the amount of iron level in your child’s body.
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How can Iron Deficiency in Children be Prevented?
To prevent iron deficiency in toddlers and preschoolers:
- Include lean red meat in the diet of a child three to four times a week. For vegetarians, you can also give them alternatives such as dried beans, lentils, chickpeas, canned beans, and small amounts of nuts.
- You must include vitamin C in your kid’s diet as this helps the body to absorb more iron. Make sure your child has plenty of foods rich in vitamin C like oranges, lemons, mandarins, berries, kiwifruit, tomatoes, cabbage, capsicum, and broccoli.
- It is important to prefer solid foods at mealtimes and take care that toddlers are not filling up their stomachs with drinks between meals.
- Fussy eaters may be at risk of iron deficiency due to poor intake or lack of variety in the foods. As a parent, you must consult a dietitian in such cases.
To prevent iron deficiency in teenagers:
- Being a parent, one should teach their child about the importance of iron. This will help them in becoming more aware and responsible to choose what to eat? and how much to eat?
- Introduce iron-rich foods in their diet routines such as iron-fortified breakfast cereals, meat, poultry, and fish.
- Make sure that your teenage child does not over consume tea and coffee. Its overconsumption will make it harder to absorb iron by the body.
Can Children take Iron Supplements?
Ideally, the kids should get their iron requirements from a balanced and healthy diet. They most likely won’t need any supplements if they eat enough iron-rich foods. But there are some children who are at a higher risk of iron deficiency and may need to take a supplement to fulfil their requirements.
There are five types of iron supplements available for kids:
1. Liquid Drops
Liquid iron supplements work perfectly because the body can absorb them easily. Your child won’t have to swallow a pill which is a tough job for most of the kids. These liquid supplements usually come with a dropper with markings to indicate the dosage level. They are easy to give to infants as well as toddlers.
Another form of iron supplement is syrups. Syrups are easily measured and given to the kids. They come in different flavours so that kids won’t run from them.
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If someone wishes to skip the measuring of liquids and syrups, a chewable iron supplement is a great option out there. These chewables are sweet and easy to eat and they usually contain many vitamins in the same tablet.
These chewables are made in different kids’ preferred flavours. One thing here to know is that these vitamins have a relatively low dose of iron compared to their other ingredients.
Iron supplements the form of gummies is the favourite choice of kids. They come in different fruit flavours. The kids love fruity gummies because of their taste and resemblance to candy. These gummies are usually vegetarian and gluten free. They are completely safe to be given to kids.
A powder form iron supplement can be mixed with your kid’s favourite soft foods, such as oatmeal, or yoghurt. Kids who run from taking supplements don’t even know they are having it.
Do remember, don’t give your child any supplement without consulting a doctor. Excessive intake of iron supplements can cause severe health problems in children.
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FAQs on Iron Nutrition Facts for Children:
- Q: My child is taking iron supplements prescribed by the doctor. Do they have any side effects?
- A: Every child’s body is different. Some face problems and some don’t. But the good part is that the side effects of iron supplements will not be there in the long term.
Some of the common side effects of iron supplements may include:
- Stomach ache
- Black stools
Most children will feel normal after a few weeks of taking iron pills.
- Q: What type of cookware one should use to reduce iron levels in food?
- A: There are different types of glass or ceramic cookware available in the market. They are the best types for reducing iron levels in cooking. Iron filings can get into food from cast iron cookware and iron coated griller.
- Q: What are the foods or substances that create a hurdle in the absorption of iron in the body?
- A: There is some food item that does not allow the body to absorb iron effectively they include Fiber (phytate), and tannins found in tea, coffee, purple grapes, walnuts, and cocoa. So, the optimal amount should be considered.
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- Q: Does Iron deficiency anaemia during pregnancy affect my baby?
- A: Major iron deficiency anaemia during pregnancy increases the risk of premature birth, having a low birth weight baby and postpartum depression in mother. Some studies also show an increased risk of infant death immediately before or after birth.
- Q: Is too much iron bad for toddlers?
- A: Yes, excess of iron is harmful. This isn’t a risk with iron from foods, though. It can become a serious problem for babies and toddlers who take too much iron from supplements. This may accumulate in internal organs and can damage the brain and liver of the child. Be sure to tighten supplement bottle caps and keep them at a safe place.
Eating habits are learned behaviours; they’re not intuitive. So what your children learn to eat at home early in life sticks with them well into adulthood.