Iron deficiency is a very common problem in children. However, it can occur at different levels, from mild to severe, usually called as iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency in children can be a serious problem, as it has effects on the central nervous system. Most of the times children are iron deficient as they lack the bio-availability of dietary iron.
One of the most important factors is, helping the body absorb iron from the food consumed. This is only possible when iron is consumed along with the healthy mix of vitamin C. Where, it is largely observed that parents feed excessive cow’s milk to babies, where the iron absorption is disrupted due to high calcium content. Even breast-milk for that matter, is low on iron. Hence, starting solids at 6 months, with high iron content is the only way to overcome this deficiency.
According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) data, 98% of the iron requirement in infants aged 6 months to 2 years should be met by solid foods. Solid foods should include products rich in meat, fish, egg and vitamin C to meet this iron need. The only way overcome this deficiency is to give solid foods should be rich in iron, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium and vitamin B6.
Tips to prevent iron deficiency in children:
- Feed Iron-Rich Foods – When you start your baby on solids at 6 months, make foods with iron-fortified baby cereal, pureed vegetables, soups made by greens with addition of vitamin-C rich foods for better iron absorption and pureed beans. For older children, good sources of iron include meat, liver, bone soup, chicken, fish, beans and spinach.
- Limit Milk Consumption – Between ages 1 and 5, don’t allow your child to drink more than 700 millilitres of milk a day. Feeding frequent milk might increase iron deficiency as consumption of milk hinders the iron absorption in children.
- Enhancing Absorption – Vitamin C helps absorption of dietary iron. Establish a healthy routine to eat fruits and pick seasonal fruits and vegetables to help improve iron absorption. Here are a few fruits that are high in Vitamin C – oranges, papayas, grapefruits, lemon, alma and strawberries. There are quite a few vegetables that are rich in Vitamin C – like bell peppers, tomatoes and dark green vegetables. A healthy mix-match of iron and vitamin C rich foods together can help in better iron absorption.
- Cook in Iron Vessels – Cooking in iron skillets help retaining iron, when compared to cooking in a steel or a non-stick pan. An easy way to enrich the food naturally. This is also seen as an upward trend, given the current scenario, where everyone is going back to following traditional methods of cooking.
Iron deficiency can be easily prevented by providing a healthy and balanced diet. For healthy growth and development, offer iron-rich foods at meals and snacks. Also check with your pediatrician about the need for screenings and iron supplements.