From the moment you introduce solids to your little one right through your child’s development we hear about the importance of iron rich foods. But why is that? How much do they need? And how can you make sure they are getting enough?
Paediatric Nutritionist, Shelley Judge, from Good Little Eaters is here with all the answers to clear up the confusion around Iron.
Iron is responsible for the transport of oxygen around the body. Iron sits on on the red blood cells to bind oxygen to them to transport – well everywhere – around the body which is vital for growth development and day to day requirements. This is why it is so important that children get adequate iron intake to ensure fast developing bodies gets all the oxygen they need.
But why we hear about it from the moment they start solids is because breast milk doesn’t contain any iron. So, all the stores they have built up in-utereo have depleted by the 6month mark.
But of course, it can’t be that simple. There are two different types of iron and sadly they are made equally.
Haem Iron: Aka Animal based iron. It’s the preferred source of iron for the body as it’s easily bio available (which just means the body can digest and absorb it easily!).
Non-Haem Iron: Aka Plant based iron. For our bodies to use Non-Haem Iron it first needs to be converted into Haem Iron, which is the reason that plant-based irons are much less bioavailable (aka harder to absorb).
Does this mean you have to make sure child is eating heaps of red meat? No. While it is easier to meet their iron requirements with red meat there are plenty of other animal based and plant-based iron foods that can help to increase their iron intake and increase their variety at the same time.
How much do they need?
Iron requirements change throughout the years, from being quite high for the amount of food they are consuming to decreasing slightly and then increasing again as they start to go through puberty (particularly important for females as their menstruation starts).
Iron requirements per day
Boys 13yrs +: 11mg, Girls 13yrs +: 15mg
A few signs of iron deficiency to watch out for are fatigue, lack of focus, behavioural and learning problems. If you are worried, they aren’t getting enough, or they are showing any of these signs a simple blood test with your GP can confirm their iron levels.
So, what foods should you include in their diet?
Before you rush off to get a supplement, it’s important for you to understand that most people can easily meet their iron requirements from food sources. Here are a few foods that you can try to include regularly to increase your children’s iron intake.
There are also a few hacks to increase the absorption of iron. So, try these when you are serving up any of the above foods to your children further ensure their iron requirements are being met.