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Where to Find Iron in Food

November 14, 2018

 

When our first baby was about to start solid food, I remember debating which foods to give him first and just loved seeing his reaction to the new foods he was tasting. Starting solids is one of the first big transitions that you help your baby make during his first year.

 

While you are so excited to give him all the new foods, his iron intake is something to start considering now as well. Breastmilk contains little iron, but infants have a supply of iron in their own bodies until about 6 months of age. At this time, your pediatrician may start to recommend providing your baby an iron supplement.

 

(Check out Dr. Brian's post on why your pediatrician is concerned with iron and when iron supplementation is recommended here). 

 

Typically, as infants begin eating more and more solid food, their intake of breastmilk and formula decreases and their iron intake becomes more of a concern.  If your baby is breastfed or is transitioning to cow's milk (after 12 months old) feeding your baby iron-rich food will be most beneficial. 

 

AMOUNT OF IRON NEEDED

 

The amount of iron a child needs will vary depending on their age. Take a look at the chart below to see what your child's specific iron needs are. (1, 2) 

**It is important to note that if your infant is consuming formula, their iron needs are most likely met as most store-bought formulas are iron-fortified. 

 

 

TWO TYPES OF IRON

 

There are two types of iron that are available for our bodies to absorb: heme and non-heme iron. 

 

HEME IRON-RICH FOOD SOURCES

 

Meats contain heme iron which is more easily absorbed in the body. Whenever possible, especially if your little one is iron deficient, try to incorporate these bioavailable sources of iron:

-- Beef 

-- Pork 

-- Poultry 

-- Clams

-- Salmon 

-- Seafood.

 

 

HOW TO HELP LITTLE ONES TO EAT MEAT

 

Sometimes infants and toddlers are not interested in eating meat and therefore can have a hard time getting this easily absorbed iron into their bodies. Try these tips to help:

 

- Blend the meat into sauce. Use ground turkey or beef and blend into a red sauce to use on spaghetti or as pizza sauce. 

 

Decrease the pressure to eat. Allow your child to feel in control of what he/she is putting into his/her mouth can help to get them to eat. Place the food on their plate and allow them to explore and feed themselves.

 

Eat the food yourself. Modeling what we want our kids to do is a highly beneficial approach to them adopting healthy habits. Eat the meal with your child and eat the same foods that you want your child to eat. 

 

NON-HEME IRON-RICH FOOD SOURCES

 

Non-heme iron is found in plants and iron-fortified products. This type of iron is not as easily absorbed in our bodies because it contains phytates and polyphenols that can bind with other chemicals in our foods which will inhibit it from being absorbed.

 

Check out our post about 6 non-meat foods to increase iron here. 

 

 

References:

1. Iron. Reviewed by Mary L. Gavin, MD.  https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/iron.html

2. Iron needs of babies and children.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2528681/

 

 

 

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