50+ Iron rich foods for babies & kids
Importance of Iron in Infant’s diet
Meeting iron needs of an infant
Nutritionist’s view of iron needs in an infant
Iron rich foods for babies -That iron is an essential mineral for human body is well-known but how important it is for babies and young children and how can we as parents ensure that children are getting enough iron as per their everyday needs. We are very happy to have Dr. Manjari Chandra, Consultant Nutrition, Max Multi Speciality Centre to shed more light on this subject. Over to her now.
Iron deficiency is rampant in infants and the problem needs an urgent attention. Iron deficiency can cause irreversible damages to brain development of children and affect their quality of life at later point. Therefore, intake of nutrient dense food in diet is essential to overcome the consequences of micronutrient deficiency and enhance overall productivity in the long run.
As infants turn six months old, their nutritional need also increases with growing age. In case of iron deficiency, body doesn’t receive enough iron from diet to carry out essential bodily function, which ultimately leads to various health implications, of which child may not recover. In the country, iron deficiency is observed highest (49.5%) among children in the age group of 6-23 months. The grim statistics reflect the sad state of health among infants with the fact that Indian children aged 1-3 years consume only one third of the recommended amount of iron daily.
Role of iron in baby’s brain and cognitive development is crucial.
- Iron and zinc help develop baby’s immunity and safeguard baby against various infections. Since, 90% of brain develops during pregnancy & the first 1000 days of the infant’s life, deficiency of the right kind of nutrition that meets all their requirements for iron and other essential vitamins and minerals during this time, may lead to irreversible damage to a child’s brain development and physical growth as well as make him more vulnerable to illness as a child and as an adult.
- It is the irony of situation that at the time when infants’ need of iron is greater, they are receiving miniscule amount of iron in their diet leading to a huge gap. Incidentally, it is also the period where the brain demand of iron is also greater and because of this gap we are losing valuable IQ points in our children. Mostly the society and the parents are ignorant of this huge loss to the country.
- Effects of iron are not apparent at an early stage of infant’s life but may get noticed at a later point, but at this time, damages had become so advanced that it gets difficult for child to recoup from its consequences.
Though iron is an essential nutrient for all age group but infants have greater need of it due to their rapidly growing age. Infants have 5 times smaller stomach than adults’ but they need 5 times more nutrients per kg of body weight. Thus, the requirement should be met by right kind of foods like vitamins & minerals enriched food or fortified grains/foods or iron/multi vitamin drops supplementation from 6 months of age, when solid foods are started.
In most of the public health programs Iron deficiency is only understood in terms of anemia. Mild iron deficiency may not lead to anemia but may be enough to hinder proper brain development in a human being. Also, the extent of adverse effects on the developing brain is largely dependent on the timing and duration of iron deficiency as iron is involved in many central nervous system processes that could affect infant behavior and development.
Iron needs should be fulfilled through complementary iron rich foods for babies.
- In India, infants are fed whatever is consumed by elders in the family. Indian diets are majorly grain and plant based, with little intake of iron rich pulses, green leafy vegetables and meat. The Indian grain and plant diets are high in macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats and proteins, but are very low in micronutrients such as iron and zinc, leading to deficiencies.”
- Additionally, infants need nutrient dense food since their stomach size is too small to take in the amount of food that is required to meet the daily micronutrient needs.
- Evidence suggests that readymade vitamins & minerals enriched food or fortified grains/foods or iron/multi vitamin drops supplementation, when consumed along with homemade food, can effectively decrease the risk of moderate to severe anemia and iron deficiency anemia by nearly 27%. They also improve hemoglobin levels among children between 12-17 months of age.
- Any supplement must only be taken after the advice from doctor.
- Here are iron rich foods for babies. A diet rich in iron should include:
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach, fenugreek leaves, dill leaves, amaranth leaves ( chaulai ), mustard leaves ( sarson ka saag), bathua saag , radish greens, turnip greens, coriander leaves, curry leaves, drumstick greens, kale, collard greens and many more. You can choose the greens easily available in your part of the world. Greens can be eaten as a curry, in dals, raita, salads etc.
- Egg yolk is a rich source of iron and you can give it boiled, scrambled or in an omelette. Check how to give egg yolk to babies
- Meat, fish and poultry are also good sources of iron. How to introduce chicken in baby’s diet
- Pulses are rich in iron and should be a part of every meal in some way. Lentils like moong, masoor, pigeon peas or toor dal, soya beans, kidney beans, peas are all good sources of iron.
- Dark green vegetables like broccoli, green peas, green beans, broad beans or sem, etc.
- Other vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce are also rich in iron.
- Include whole grains and millets like amaranth, brown rice, oats and whole wheat.
- Dried fruits like raisins, dried apricots, dates, dried figs are also rich in iron and should be included in children’s daily diet in some way.
- Nuts and seeds are also rich in iron and can be included in every day diet easily. Include almonds, walnuts, cashews, even the humble peanuts as a snack, peanut butter, chutney etc. Also include seeds like sunflower seeds, flax seeds and sesame seeds for that dash of iron.
Iron plays a crucial role in brain development of child and its deficiency can have serious consequences that can persist through adulthood. Therefore, it is imperative that parents understand the importance of nutrition for their child’s overall growth and development. On a brighter side, timely intervention can prevent the damages caused by iron deficiency.
Percentage of daily recommended energy and micronutrients intake to be sourced from complementary foods for babies from 6-8 months.
Dr. Manjari Chandra, Consultant Nutrition, Max Multi Speciality Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi
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