An article released in the journal Pediatrics from the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on nutrition, sets new guidelines for iron intake in infants and children. The news is not good. According to Dr. Frank Greer, who is the co-author of the report, “iron deficiency remains common in the United States”. The effects of being iron deficient not only cause anemia, but may also cause “long term irreversible effects on children’s cognitive and behavioral development. Because of these findings it is imperative that adequate iron is provided in infancy and early childhood.
Studies have shown that 4 percent of 6 month olds, and 12 percent of 12 month olds are iron deficient. Children between the ages of 1-3 years of age have rates of iron deficiency between 6-15 percent. Preterm infants, infants who are exclusively breastfed and infants who are at risk for developmental disabilities seem to be at higher risk to develop iron deficiency.
The committee recognized that the ideal way to prevent iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia would be with a diet consisting of foods that are naturally rich in iron, but realized that in some cases “children will still need liquid iron supplements or chewable vitamins to get the iron they need.
The AAP guidelines now recommend that:
1. Term healthy babies that are exclusively breast fed should receive an iron supplement (1 mg per day) beginning at 4 months of age
2. Whole milk should not be started until 12 months of age
3. Infants 6–12 months of age need 11 mg of iron per day, which should be met via the use of “complementary” foods. Red meat and vegetables with high iron content should be introduced early, as well as the use of iron fortified cereals.
4. Toddlers ages 1-3 years need 7 mg of iron per day, and again this is best if iron comes from foods.
5. Children should have their hemoglobin checked sometime between 9–12 months of age, and again between 15-18 months of age, and follow-up for iron deficiency treatment and testing is recommended
6. Children who do not meet their iron needs via foods should receive a daily iron supplement
The article contains a table which shows many foods from each food group that are good sources of iron. Foods like meat, shellfish, beans, iron fortified cereals, and fruits and vegetables that contain vitamin C (which aids in iron absorption) are all encouraged.
Thanks to my mother, I have always known that liver is a good source of iron (never my favorite dinner as a child), but who would have known that clams and oysters are also high in iron. While oatmeal is a good iron source, molasses is also high in iron. Tofu and wheat germ are also high in iron, as are edema me beans, which many kids love.
By getting creative with foods that are high in iron beginning early in a child’s life, iron deficiency may be avoided. You never know what your child will eat, unless you try it!
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