We all want our kids to grow up to be strong and resilient. But too often, something like iron deficiency can hold them back. Iron deficiency is very common in children and can affect their health and well-being. Initially, it can just cause general tiredness and struggling to keep on task. But left untreated, anaemia can affect a child’s development, including key milestones such as walking and talking.
Iron deficiency can also lead to poor growth and behavioural problems. A child’s immune function can also be affected, leaving them more at risk of infection and take longer to recover. The great news is that it’s simple to test, and if your little one is iron-deficient, this is usually super-easy to reverse. Learn more about mighty iron and why it is such important brain and immunity fuel for your children.
Iron is a crucial mineral in the human body that helps make haemoglobin, the part in red blood cells that pumps oxygen throughout the body. Without enough iron, the body is unable to make haemoglobin, resulting in a reduction of red blood cells leading, in some cases, to the child becoming anaemic.
Iron is also essential for your little one’s growth, development and ability to learn. Low iron stores have been linked to mood disorders, autism spectrum conditions and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is important to support iron levels when they are younger as infant iron deficiency has been associated with teenage anxiety and social problems. This is why it is important to sort out their nutrition when they are young, so that greater issues do not develop when they are older.
Signs & physical symptoms
There are many signs and symptoms of iron deficiency and these often can include – pale skin, tiredness, general weakness, headaches, poor appetite, shortness of breath, dizziness, tongue swelling, tingling in the legs, and slow growth rate. The less common signs can include hair loss, feeling itchy, a change in taste, difficulty swallowing and spoon-shaped nails. There is also a condition called PICA which is associated with iron and zinc deficiencies and this manifests as a desire to eat strange non-food items such as ice, dirt, stones, paper or tissues.
By far and away the biggest cause of iron deficiency in children is an iron deficient diet and is common in picky eaters. If your child does not eat red meat, lentils, green leafy vegetables or eggs then they will be more prone to becoming anaemic. Children who eat a vegan or vegetarian diet, have Coeliac disease, thyroid conditions, or chronic threadworm are also more susceptible.
It is particularly common in toddlers as they are experiencing rapid growth rates and moving on from relying on the natural iron in breast milk or the iron added to infant formula. Teenagers are also more susceptible to anaemia as they again are going through huge physical developments and may make questionable diet choices. Teenage girls with particularly heavy periods can also often suffer more with iron deficiency. There are also several genetic conditions also exist preventing the body from absorbing iron properly and these will need medical support.
What to do if you suspect your child is iron-deficient?
A routine full blood count test will show if your child has a low haemoglobin level. If this is the case then a further test to count their ferritin levels will determine if this is the result of an iron deficiency. Ferritin is an indicator of the amount of iron stored in the body and a count of over 50 is ideal.
The easiest way to prevent iron deficiencies or restore iron levels is to include high iron foods like:
- Red meat from grass-fed beef, lamb or venison
- Chicken liver
Other sources of plant-formed iron are:
- Beans (kidney beans, black beans)
- Brown rice
- Goji berries
- Leafy greens including spinach and kale
- Sesame seeds (tahini)
- Sweet potato
- Sun-dried tomatoes
Another important consideration is to ensure your child is eating enough food high in vitamin C as this will increase the natural absorption of iron by up to 3 times. Such foods include: citrus fruits, potatoes, broccoli, red peppers, kiwi fruit and strawberries. Here are two of my most popular child-friendly recipes for easy to make yummy healthy drinks high in both natural iron and vitamin C:
Another important consideration is to ensure your child is eating enough food high in vitamin C as this will increase the natural absorption of iron by up to 3 times. Such foods include: citrus fruits, potatoes, broccoli, red peppers, kiwi fruit and strawberries.
Here are two of my most popular child-friendly recipes for easy to make yummy healthy drinks high in both natural iron and vitamin C:
In some cases, iron supplements will be needed. Always take these under the supervision of your healthcare practitioner and again, also add a vitamin C supplement to increase the absorption rate of the iron.
So, as you can see: if your child is deficient in iron there’s a huge range of things you can do nutritionally to boost their levels to bring them back to the full of energy healthy little monkey they should be. Why not share any top tips you have in boosting up your child’s iron the comments below?