Picky eaters are likely to fall short on this mineral that can impact everything from behavior to asthma. Is your kid at risk?
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Did you know about one in 20 young children are deficient in iron? To find out if your child is falling short, add up the amount of iron in the foods she likes to eat and compare it to what she needs. We've divided more than 50 kid-fave foods into easy-to-navigate categories. And we didn't forget about dairy products; they're not listed here because they contain only very small amounts of iron.
Overall, whole grains have more nutrients than refined ones. But when it comes to iron, refined grains, including cereals, have been enriched to contain roughly the same amount of the nutrient.
Nuts, Seeds & Legumes
Pair these foods with ones high in vitamin C to help your child's body absorb more iron.
Fruits & Veggies
Vegetables pack more iron than fruit -- and potatoes are a surprisingly good source.
Herbs & Spices
Let your little ones season their oatmeal with cinnamon for a kid-friendly iron boost.
Meat & Fish
Beef supplies more iron than chicken, turkey, or pork; just be sure to choose lean cuts. And what's the king of the sea? Clams!
Iron: The Multipurpose Mineral
Iron may not grab as much attention as calcium and vitamin D these days, but it's crucial that children get the recommended amounts: 7 milligrams (mg) daily for 1- to 3-year-olds and 10mg for 4- to 8-year-olds. Roughly 7 percent of toddlers and 4-5 percent of 3- to 11-year-olds are iron-deficient. "Picky eaters and kids on a restricted diet because of food allergies tend to be most at risk," says Sarah Krieger, R.D., a St. Petersburg, Florida-based spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Iron carries oxygen to muscles via the red blood cells. If everything's going well, the muscles get plenty of oxygen and kids have boundless energy. But when kids are running low on iron, they grow tired more easily. "At first, it may be hardly noticeable," says Frank Greer, M.D., chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition. "Your child may not want to play for as long or may be more likely to nap."
If the trend continues, Dr. Greer says, a child may develop anemia, a condition in which the body doesn't make enough red blood cells to replenish old ones. Kids with iron-deficiency anemia, he says, feel tired, weak, and cranky pretty much 24/7.
Iron is also important for brain development. "When a child is deficient, the body directs all the iron to the blood at the expense of the brain, and learning problems set in," Dr. Greer says. Worse still, the trouble may persist long after the anemia is gone. In a study from the University of Michigan, kids who had iron-deficiency anemia as babies scored lower on math and writing tests and had more attention and social problems at age 12 than their classmates who had normal iron levels in infancy.
Doctors have found new connections between iron and health. One recent Indian study showed that anemic kids were more than five times more likely to have an asthma attack than children who got enough iron. What's more, iron-deficient kids may be more vulnerable to lead poisoning. The mineral helps the body excrete the substance, but for kids who are running low it's more likely to linger in the blood and cause learning disabilities.
Beef Kabobs & Roasted Potatoes
Three ounces of lean beef provides 2-3 milligrams of iron, and cooking it in a cast-iron pan could double that amount. In a study from Texas Tech University, the iron content of two eggs jumped from 1-1/2 milligrams to nearly 5 milligrams when they were scrambled in an iron skillet.
Cheesy Linguine With Clams
Fresh clams contain the most iron of any food; just one supplies 2 milligrams of the mineral. If you kid doesn't dig clams, no worries. This pasta tastes like noodles and butter because the clams are shelled and blended in.
Six-Layer Mexican Dip
Don't have a meat eater? All varieties of beans supply nearly as much iron and protein as beef and they're packed with fiber so kids stay full.
Crunchy Chicken Legs
Most cereals offer at least 4 milligrams of iron per serving (it'll be noted as 25 percent of the Daily Value), but some have twice that amount. We used a higher-iron cereal, corn flakes, to coat chicken legs, which are slightly higher in the mineral than breast meat.
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