As parents, most of us are pretty conscious about making sure our little ones get all the right vitamins and minerals they need to grow up healthy and strong. But how much do you know about iron? Why is iron so important and how do you know if they’re getting enough? Here’s what you need to know, especially if you have a fussy eater!
What is iron?
Iron is a mineral essential for our everyday life. In humans, iron helps transport oxygen around the body to produce energy, proper muscle function and help create strong immunity.
Why toddlers need it
Every person needs iron to survive and we get it from the food we eat (our bodies can only store it and use it, not create it). For young children however, getting sufficient iron is particularly crucial because their brains and bodies aren’t fully developed yet and they need it to ensure proper growth. Iron also helps kids prevent and fight off illness, which they’re more vulnerable to due to an immature immune system.
How much do they need?
The recommended daily iron intake for toddlers aged one to three years is nine milligrams, and for children aged four to eight it’s ten milligrams per day.
If these amounts aren’t regularly met children can develop low iron levels which may be problematic. Children who have low iron levels may also have another underlying health condition.
Signs they might be low in iron
If your toddler is showing the following symptoms, it could mean their iron intake is inadequate and you should see your doctor for a blood test:
- Repeat infections and illnesses
- Fatigue or lethargy
- Behavioural problems or irritability
- Poor appetite
- They appear very pale
- Eating strange things such as dirt or sand
- Below growth expectations
Managing healthy iron intake
Luckily there are some easy ways to help boost your toddler’s iron intake. The most obvious one is to make sure they have an iron-rich diet (see below). Although as we all know, this is a LOT easier said than done. With some toddlers it’s literally impossible to get them to eat all the right foods – or enough of them!
If this sounds like your child, you might want to consider an iron booster such as Little Iron. A berry-flavoured liquid iron formula that’s gentle on the tummy, it contains B complex (to help restore energy) and Vitamin C (to help with maximum iron absorption) and is suitable for children over 12 months. It also contains an organic, low-constipation form of iron and has no added gluten, lactose, artificial sweeteners or flavours.
Foods high in iron
There are many different foods which are high in iron, however the most easily absorbed by the body is animal-based. So if your toddler is a vegetarian or vegan and not eating meat, you might need to pay closer attention to which plant-based iron-rich foods they’re eating.
Key iron-rich food to try:
- Red meat, poultry and eggs, fish and pork – liver and red meat are particularly high
- Green vegetables – e.g. spinach and broccoli (you can always hide them in a smoothie!)
- Lentils, beans and chickpeas – all kids love baked beans!
- Nuts and seeds – get creative with muffins or snacks at home
- Fortified grains and cereals e.g. whole wheat bread, pasta and brown rice
Another idea to help boost your toddler’s iron levels is to serve iron-containing foods alongside those rich in vitamin C (such as oranges, tomatoes, berries, kiwi fruit, broccoli and capsicum), which can help maximise iron absorption. So you could add them raw to your toddler’s plate or give them a bit of orange juice with their meal.
Calcium rich foods may decrease the absorption of iron when eaten at the same time. Of course, calcium is an essential part of a little one’s diet so just try not to eat calcium rich foods at the exact same time as iron rich foods.
If you’re at all concerned about your child’s iron levels or nutrition in general, please speak to your doctor.