How Can Kids Get Iron in Their Diet?
Posted on February 21 2022,
Iron is a mineral that is essential to several enzymes and proteins found in the human body. Most of the iron in your body is present in hemoglobin, which is a pigment in red blood cells. This mineral is naturally present in several foods and also available in the form of dietary supplements. Your child’s daily iron needs depend on several factors including sex, age, and whether you eat a more plant-based diet. Research has shown that those who follow a vegetarian diet without consumption of poultry, seafood, and meat require twice the amount of iron when compared to non-vegetarians. (1)(2)
What does iron do? Iron is extremely important as it transfers oxygen to all organs and tissues of our body. It is an essential mineral that supports physical growth, cellular functioning, neurological development, and the formation of some hormones in your body. It also supports myoglobin, which is a protein that helps provide oxygen throughout the body. Additionally, iron aids in muscle metabolism and the formation of healthy connective tissues in the human body. (2)
When your child has a deficiency of iron, their body can’t produce enough hemoglobin, which is vital for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues. As a result, your child can experience anemia, fatigue, shortness of breath, and low energy. In cases of severe deficiency, iron supplements may be used under the guidance of a physician. (1)
How Does Iron Function in Your Child’s Body?
Why is iron essential for your child’s health? It is a necessary mineral that supports your child’s proper development and growth and performs several vital functions in your child’s body. Iron primarily helps move oxygen in your child’s body and allows muscles to store and consume oxygen. Additionally, iron plays an important role in the metabolism of proteins and some enzymes. (2)
Iron is toxic for your child’s body when present in a free state. In order to be safely present in the human body, it is bonded with proteins through ligand binding or incorporated into a porphyrin group in the body. This complex of the ferrous form of iron is known as heme. Heme iron is present in myoglobin and hemoglobin, while non-heme iron is found in storage proteins, including ferritin and transferrin.
Research has demonstrated that the human body typically loses a small amount of this essential mineral through the skin, urine, gastrointestinal tract, and feces. Another study has shown that hepcidin, a peptide hormone, regulates both the distribution and absorption of iron in your child’s body, including plasma. (3)
Why Do Children Need Iron?
Iron is essential for your child’s health and overall wellbeing and provides numerous benefits to your kid. Some benefits of iron include:
- Prevents anemia
- Increases hemoglobin
- Prevents fatigue
- Enhances endurance of muscles
- Supports immune functions
- Restores sleep
- Reduces bruising
- Improves concentration
- Boosts energy levels
Prevents anemia: Iron is useful in preventing anemia, which is the most common nutritional deficiency in kids. Anemia occurs when hemoglobin levels are lower than normal ranges. Common symptoms of anemia in children include fast heart rate, dizziness, shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue, and feelings of sickness. (4)
Increases hemoglobin: One major benefit of iron is the formation of hemoglobin, which is a red blood cell protein that transports oxygen throughout your child’s blood. Additional iron is often required for children because children lose blood in different ways, especially during injury. (4)
Prevents fatigue: The research has revealed that iron plays a promising role in preventing fatigue in both males and females. Even those who are not anemic can suffer from low energy levels due to a lack of iron. This is especially common in females of reproductive age.
Another study found that children with low iron levels experience fatigue that lasts for several weeks or more. It is necessary to incorporate iron-rich foods in your child’s meals to prevent weakness and fatigue due to iron deficiency. (5)
Enhances endurance of muscles: Low iron levels affect the metabolism of muscles. Research has demonstrated that proper iron levels provide necessary oxygen to your muscles, therefore improving muscle endurance and contractions. Another study found that low iron levels can result in muscle pain and inflammation in kids. On the other hand, iron-rich hemoglobin prevents muscle pain by repairing affected muscle. (6)
Supports immune functions: According to health experts, iron is essential for strengthening immune functions in children. This is because it produces hemoglobin, which provides oxygen to damaged and affected organs, cells, and tissues. Hemoglobin is required of your child in order to fight against diseases and infections. Low iron levels affect healing processes and immune functions in children. (7)
Restores sleep: Several scientific studies have found that iron promotes peaceful sleep in children. Kids with inadequate iron levels can suffer from several sleep issues, including insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless sleep. One study in particular found that children with autism suffering from restless sleep found a significant improvement in their sleep with iron supplementation. (8)
Reduces bruising: If your kid easily bruises, they might have a deficiency in iron. This is because low hemoglobin levels affect the formation of platelets in children, and blood platelets are responsible for controlling bleeding. Research shows that frequent bruising reveals that internal mechanisms are not performing properly due to iron deficiency. (9)
Improves concentration: According to scientific studies, a lack of iron affects cognitive abilities in children. When iron levels drop, attentiveness and concentration also drop. One study found that children who get adequate iron in their diet and through supplementation tend to have better cognitive performance and concentration than those who do not. (8)
Boosts energy levels: Iron in the diet affects the production of energy in kids. Iron carries oxygen to the brain and muscles, making it essential for both physical and mental health. One study found that a lack of iron can result in irritability, poor focus, and low stamina in children. (9)
What Is Iron Deficiency?
Iron deficiency occurs when your child does not have enough iron in their body. This condition can lead to several health complications in children, especially anemia. Common causes of iron deficiency in children include:
- Inadequate dietary intake of iron-rich foods
- Blood loss due to injury
- Internal bleeding
- Increased iron needs during growth and development
Below are common signs and symptoms of iron deficiency in children: (10)
- Shortness of breath
- Damaged and dry skin and hair
- Soreness and swelling of mouth and tongue
Paleness: Paleness of the skin and around the eyes is a major indicator of iron deficiency in kids. The hemoglobin present in red blood cells gives a red color to the blood. Therefore, inadequate iron levels make the blood less red, also affecting the coloring of the skin.
Paleness in children suffering from anemia can appear all over the body, but it is most commonly observed in the gums, nails, face, lower eyelids and inside the lips. Paleness is the first sign of iron deficiency that your child’s pediatrician will observe before confirming deficiency with a blood test. (11)
Shortness of breath: If your child often experiences shortness of breath while doing daily tasks, such as climbing stairs and walking, then they might be suffering from iron deficiency. Research has found that low hemoglobin levels due to a lack of iron can lead to low oxygen levels in your child’s body. This means that your child would not be getting enough oxygen in their muscles to perform typical daily activities, such as walking. As a result, the human body tries to get extra oxygen from the other sources, which can lead to shortness of breath. (12)
Damaged and dry skin and hair: Damaged and dry hair and skin are common signs of iron deficiency in kids. Several studies have found that low hemoglobin levels reduce oxygen supply to the cells that are responsible for hair growth. When the hair and skin get less oxygen, they become weak and dry.
According to health experts, it is completely normal to lose some hair during daily brushing and washing. But if your child loses clumps or much more than normal hair daily, then it can be due to iron deficiency and you should seek medical attention for diagnosis and treatment. (13)
Soreness and swelling of mouth and tongue: Soreness or swelling of the mouth are common signs of iron deficiency in kids. A pale, swollen, or inflamed tongue can also indicate a lack of iron in children. Additional symptoms of iron deficiency around the mouth that warrant a visit to the doctor include dry mouth, ulcers in the mouth, red cracks around the mouth and a burning feeling in the mouth. (14)
How Much Iron Does Your Kid Need per Day?
Dosing recommendations for iron are provided in the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) developed by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). DRI is the optimal amount of nutrients that a person needs per day. (1)
It is essential for your kid’s health to provide an adequate amount of iron that meets their daily requirements. Daily requirements depend on several factors, including sex, age and dietary preferences. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for this mineral is provided in milligrams (mg).
For children, the recommended doses for iron are as follows: (1)
|Age||Recommended daily amount in milligrams (mg)|
|0-6 months||0.27 mg|
|7-12 months||11 mg|
|1-3 years||7 mg|
|4-8 years||10 mg|
|9-13 years||8 mg|
|14-18 years||11 mg (males); 15 mg (females)|
|19+ years||8 mg (males); 18 mg (females)|
Should You Give Iron Supplements to Your Kids?
Iron supplements are generally safe for kids. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants of 4 months and older who only consume breastmilk should get an iron supplement of 1 mg per kg of body weight per day to meet their iron needs. On the other hand, if your child consumes iron-fortified formula or iron-rich foods then supplements are not required. (15)
Foods That Are Rich in Iron
Major sources of heme iron in the human diet include seafood and lean meat. Primary non-heme iron sources are vegetables, beans, nuts, and fortified cereals. In the United States, the majority of dietary iron comes from cereals, bread, and other grain products.
Below are several foods that contain a good amount of iron: (1)
|Food||Serving size||Milligrams (mg) per serving|
|Fortified breakfast cereals||1/2 bowl||18 mg|
|Cooked oysters||3 oz||8 mg|
|Pan fried beef liver||3 oz||5 mg|
|Canned kidney beans||1/2 cup||3 mg|
|Boiled chickpeas||1/2 cup||2 mg|
|Boiled green peas||1/2 cup||1 mg|
|Canned tuna||3 oz||1 mg|
|Dry roasted nuts||1 oz||1 mg|
|Cheddar cheese||1.5 oz||1 mg|
|Boiled egg||1 whole egg||1 mg|
|Roasted turkey||3 oz||1 mg|
Risks and Side Effects of Iron
Upset stomach and constipation are the most common side effects of taking iron supplements. The research has shown that excessive intake of this mineral can lead to iron buildups in the liver and other organs that result in the formation of free radicals and can cause cancer. One study has found that mega doses of iron supplements can result in stomach pains, nausea, and vomiting. Rarer side effects of iron overdose include internal bleeding, coma, seizures, and even death.
Research has also found that excessive intake of iron supplements can affect the performance of certain medicines used to treat thyroid problems. It is important to discuss the safety of iron supplementation with your child’s pediatrician before making changes in their daily health routine. (16)(17)
Iron is an essential mineral present in the body’s hemoglobin, a pigment of red blood cells. Its primary role is to transfer oxygen to all organs and tissues of the human body. This mineral is required for your child’s proper growth and development. It provides several health benefits to children, including preventing anemia, increasing hemoglobin, preventing fatigue, enhancing endurance of muscles, supporting immune functions, restoring sleep, reducing bruising, improving concentration, and boosting energy levels. On the other hand, a deficiency of iron can lead to anemia, fatigue, weakness, and irritability in kids. In cases of severe deficiency, you might consider consulting with your child’s doctor about providing iron supplements to your kid. Some common side effects of iron supplementation include upset stomach and constipation.
Disclaimer: The content of this blog post is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not use this information for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement and with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.