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What does iron do and why is it important in my child’s diet?

Many of us are aware that iron is essential for carrying oxygen around the body in the blood, but it also plays a very important role in a child’s cognitive development.

How much iron does my child need, and how do I include enough of it in my child’s diet?

Infants from 6-12mths of age need 7.8mg per day and 1-3 year olds need 6.9 mg of iron a day.  A nutritionally balanced diet containing a combination of different foods is one of the foundations of a healthy diet. Ensuring your child has a varied diet is a better option than giving them supplements, as it avoids the risk of them having too much iron and it is sustainable.

There are two kinds of iron in food.  The first form is easily absorbed by the body and is found in meat and fish, which are naturally iron-rich foods for babies.  The second form is found in plant foods and is not as easy for the body to absorb, but it is still an important part of their diet.

Tips to help you include enough iron in your child’s diet

Iron for babies during weaning can come from many sources, and it all goes towards their intake.

1. Breastfeed your baby for the first six months. Breast milk is naturally rich in the nutrients your little one needs.

2. If you’re not breastfeeding, make use of an iron-fortified infant formula.

3. Provide suitable iron rich food for babies. These include:

  • Meat, fish, eggs, poultry, and pulses - 2-3 times a day
  • Oily fish
  • Red meat (such as beef, lamb and pork)
  • Dark poultry meat such as chicken legs and thighs (white meat such as chicken breast has less iron)
  • Dhal
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Baby cereals with iron
  • Dried fruit
  • Green vegetables
  • Hummus
  • Poppadums made with lentil flour
  • Bhajis and Bombay mix made with chickpea flour

4. Avoid tea and high fibre foods that inhibit the absorption of iron.

Remember, vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron, particularly from plant sources of iron, so offering citrus fruits and orange juices during meals can be helpful.

If your child has a vegetarian diet, it’s still easy to ensure they get enough iron. If your child doesn’t eat meat or fish, they will get enough iron if you give them plenty of fortified breakfast cereals, dark green vegetables, broad beans and lentils, and dried fruit such as apricots, figs and prunes.

For more tips on weaning your child and making sure they have a balanced diet, check out our guide to everything you need to know about weaning.


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