Wow, this is a video that I’ve been thinking and thinking for months. A correct daily iron intake can really make a huge difference in your baby/toddler/kid wellbeing as iron is an essential element for our body to function and grow. I’ve been researching and studying all the information in this post first for my family, to create a balanced diet for my kids and it’s now time to share everything with you 😉
You might have noticed that tons of baby food products have the sign “Iron fortified” on the packaging…from baby formula to cereals. And usually the sign is very well visible and underlined. So…why iron is so important for a baby? in which foods can I find it? how/when should I give iron to my baby??
First of all…what does iron do?
Iron is essential for our body to function: iron helps the production of a protein (hemoglobin) that carries oxygen through our blood and simply let our body live and grow.
Iron in babies is even more important as it is directly related to cognitive (brain) and developmental proper growth.
So, yes, our babies need iron even more than we do.
If you want to find more about the importance of iron in your baby’s diet and infant iron deficiency, there is an interesting clinical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics released in 2010. The main concept is that infants, toddlers and kids really need iron-rich foods to grow at a fast rate.
Where to find iron?
Every baby is born with an iron stock that comes directly from the mom in utero and usually lasts 6 months after birth. That’s more or less when you start introducing solid foods in your baby’s diet and that’s whey you should start replenishing your baby’s iron stock for a proper and healthy brain and body development.
You have few options to give iron to your baby:
- iron rich foods
- fortified foods (cereals, baby formula)
My personal opinion as a mom is to try the natural way before using supplements: if you offer your baby a balanced diet rich in iron like in other essential nutrients (vitamins/proteins), your baby will grow healthy and strong. You can easily offer both iron rich foods and fortified foods to your baby
So, which are the iron-rich foods you can use for your baby food:
Preferred Sources of Iron (the list in in order, the first foods have more iron than the last ones):
ANIMAL: liver (yes, liver…it sounds yack but it’s good. simply buy it from a super trusted source!!), sardines, ground beef, egg yolk, chicken (thigh more than breast)
VEGGIES: spinach, green peas, leafy greens (kale!!), broccoli, green beans
LEGUMES: white beans, lentils, kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, tofu
GRAINS: amaranth, quinoa, barley
A nice list to pick from, isnt’ it?
Don’t forget VITAMIN C!!
Important note: iron to be activated in our body needs Vitamin C, so it’s very important that you also include in your baby’s diet foods rich in Vitamin C like citruses, berries, broccoli, leafy greens (they are wonderful as they contain both Iron and Vitamin C…win win situation!!), squash, peaches, apples, bananas, tomatoes.
And don’t mix DAIRY with Iron rich foods
Dairy food (to be precise the calcium contained in cow’s milk) limits the iron absorption in our body, exactly the contrary of Vitamin C. It’s fine to enjoy dairy, but separately from iron rich foods if iron absorption is your goal. To give you an example: a ricotta and spinach mix will give you less iron absorption compared to a spinach and chickpeas mix.
So…to summarize: Iron and Vitamin C are good friends and they should be given at the same time, Calcium should be given (yes, it’s important too!!) but separately, if your main goal is to boost your baby’s iron levels.
How much iron??
According to the World Health Organization the recommended daily allowance for infants ages 7 – 12 months is 11mg.
That goes down to 7mg/day for kids 1-3 years and up again to 10mg/day for kids 4-8 years.
Interesting fact: breastmilk is low in iron. Seems strange…why such an important element is missing in such a powerful food like breastmilk? well, mother nature is very wise. Unhealthy bacterias require iron to survive, so low iron = low bacterias = low infections. So breastmilk is low in iron maybe to protect infants from infections. There are no scientific studies on this theory, but it is pretty awesome, don’t you think?
Interesting fact: if the pediatrician waits 2/3 minutes after birth before clamping the cord, the iron that the baby gets from the mom is higher. Let’s say that instead of lasting 6 months, the iron lasts 7 months…one extra month of iron stores for only 2/3 minutes of wait..impressive 🙂
So…going back to our baby recipes…how can I give 11mg/day of iron to my baby?
Here you are three simple examples of a daily menu for a baby + toddler + kid that respects the minimum iron daily suggested intake:
breakfast: carrot and apple oatmeal
main meal: bell pepper chicken puree
snack: pink iron smoothie
breakfast: scrambled egg with avocado
snack: cheerios + tangerines
lunch: broccoli meatballs
snack: pumpkin seeds
breakfast: pancakes with almond butter
snack: green iron smoothie
dinner: lentil soup
These are only few recipe examples of how to offer to your little ones a well balanced diet with the right amount of iron. There are soooo many other options and yummy recipes!! Have a look at the video and think about the list of iron rich ingredients you can use to prepare healthy delicious meals for your kids and your family!!