There are many different nutrients that our body needs for good growth and development. A common nutrient that we hear about is iron; but why is iron important? This post will discuss the importance of iron for growing children, the key signs of iron deficiency and how to encourage iron intake in children with feeding challenges.

Iron is a mineral that is important for adults and children. It helps to make a special protein in our blood which moves oxygen around the body. Iron is vital for protecting our bodies from illness, which is particularly important during these COVID times. If the iron levels in our blood become too low, symptoms of iron deficiency might start to develop. Severe iron deficiency is called iron deficiency anaemia and can be diagnosed by your General Practitioner or Paediatrician with a blood test.

Common signs of iron deficiency include:

  • Feeling unusually tired
  • Low energy levels
  • Irritable and behavioural challenges
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Frequent colds or infections

More serious signs of anaemia include:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Brittle nails
  • Thinning hair
  • Itchy skin
  • Sore and ulcers

Some children will be at a higher risk of iron deficiency than others.  Infants and children are at risk of iron deficiency if:

  • Their mother has an iron deficiency
  • They were born premature or underweight
  • They are exclusively breast fed after 6 months of age
  • They had late introduction to iron rich foods
  • They consume large quantities of cow’s milk
  • They’re vegetarian or vegan
  • They have any gastrointestinal disorders such as coeliac disease or inflammatory bowel
  • They have chronic blood loss

If you are worried about your child’s iron levels, discuss this with your General Practitioner or Paediatrician. Additionally, our Dietitians can conduct a nutritional analysis to determine if your child is eating enough iron containing foods. But what are iron containing foods?

Iron can be found in a wide variety of foods. The body absorbs iron best from meat products, but it can also absorb some iron from plant products. Example of foods high in iron include:

  • Animal foods:
    • Red meat: beef, lamb, pork, sausages
    • Chicken
    • Eggs
    • Bacon
    • Fish: salmon, tuna, prawns and
  • Plant foods:
    • Baked beans
    • Butter beans/chickpeas/kidney beans
    • Tofu
    • Dried fruit: figs, apricots, and dates
    • Nuts and seeds: almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds
    • Peanut butter
    • Green leafy vegetables: broccoli and spinach

For children with feeding challenges, they occasionally don’t include many of these foods in their diet. If you have questions about how to add extra iron to your child’s diet, please let us know!

Alice (Paediatric Dietitian)

References: The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne

British Dietetic Association Iron-food-fact-sheet.pdf