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Importance of Iron for Children



Iron deficiency anemia is a condition in which the body doesn't have enough iron to make hemoglobin. Iron is a mineral that helps carry oxygen and nutrients through your body. If you don't get enough iron, your red blood cells can't grow and increase their numbers as they should. This causes anemia, which means "without blood." The symptoms of anemia may include feeling tired all the time, being pale or looking pale in the face and having trouble concentrating. Anemia also can cause headaches or stomach cramps when you digest food because there isn't enough oxygen getting delivered throughout your body properly.


Iron deficiency anemia occurs when a child's body doesn't have enough iron to make hemoglobin.

Iron deficiency anemia occurs when a child's body doesn't have enough iron to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a substance found in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. Iron-rich foods help the body absorb and use iron to produce hemoglobin, so that red blood cells can carry oxygen all over your child's body.

Iron deficiency anemia can be caused by:

  • chronic or acute bleeding (for example, from a stomach ulcer or tonsillectomy)

  • malnutrition due to poor diet or alcoholism

  • increased needs for iron because of growth spurts during childhood (particularly during puberty)


If your child is over the age of 1 but under age 5, don't give him or her cow's milk for more than about 3 cups per day.

Baby under 1 years old should never be given cow's milk as a primary beverages. If your baby is over 1 and under age 5, don't give him or her cow's milk for more than about 3 cups or 24 oz (240 milliliters (ml) per day while they are still learning to eat.

Milk is a poor source of iron, over consumption of milk can lead to iron deficiency in babies and toddlers as they are not going to be hungry for other nutrients dense food.


To help your child meet his or her daily iron needs, offer iron-rich foods two or three times a day.

To help your child meet his or her daily iron needs, offer iron-rich foods two or three times a day. If a meal isn't particularly high in iron, offer an iron supplement with that meal.


Offer meat, poultry, fish and beans (such as kidney beans) several times a week. To make the most of these foods' natural goodness, serve them with whole grains and vegetables whenever possible. Avoid consuming iron rich foods with cow's milk since this can significantly interfere with your body's absorption of the mineral. Also avoid calcium-rich foods such as dairy products (including cheese) at meals that contain high amounts of nonheme (plant) sources of heme iron because calcium blocks absorption from nonheme sources by 50%.


Iron Sources

To get more iron in your diet, it's important to eat a variety of foods. For example:

  • Iron-fortified cereals

  • Meat, poultry, Eggs and fish

  • Beans, nuts, seeds and dried fruits (such as prunes)

  • Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and collard greens

Serve meat with vitamin C-rich foods such as fruit or vegetables at each meal to increase the amount of iron that your child's body absorbs.

It's also a good idea to serve meat with vitamin C-rich foods such as fruit or vegetables at each meal. Studies have shown that, when paired together, iron absorption is improved. Vitamin C helps the body absorb more iron from a meal by increasing the uptake of iron in the digestive tract.

Other ways to increase your child’s intake of iron:

  • Include sources of vitamin C (fruits and vegetables) with meals featuring sources of heme iron (meat).

  • Enjoy a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables daily for their phytonutrients (plant chemicals), which help build strong bones and teeth as well as promote healthy growth during puberty.

If you are ever concern about your child's iron status, talk with your pediatrician. A simple iron finger prick check can tell you if your child has adequate iron stores in their body.

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