“Mr. I”, as we tell children sometimes, or iron is one of the invisible minerals in your child’s diet. Iron is associated with strength and Mr. Ironman is no doubt considered quite the superhero for being super strong. What is iron and why do we need it, is a question many parents ask. Iron is an essential mineral that has many important functions. It helps to carry oxygen around our body and gives us energy. We also need iron to support our immune system, support muscle function, and assist with cognitive functioning. Unfortunately, iron deficiency is quite common, even in developed countries such as Australia. Not having enough iron can make you feel both mentally and physically tired.
What happens if your child does not get enough iron? There are several common symptoms of iron deficiency, including fatigue, lack of concentration, increased risk of infection, headaches, pale skin, weakness or dizziness. There are standard daily recommendations of how much iron your child needs, and it is always helpful to check if their dietary intake is adequate. Many parents ask which foods their children can get the most iron from. This is a good question. Iron is found in two different forms- haem iron and non-haem iron. Haem refers to the chemical composition of iron. Put simply, haem is a form of iron that is easily absorbed into our bloodstream. Unfortunately, non-haem iron has a slightly different composition to haem and is not as easily absorbed. Haem iron is found in animal foods such as red meat, chicken, and fish. Non-haem iron is found in plant foods such as fortified breakfast cereals, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, and lentils and legumes.
A helpful fact to remember is that non-haem iron food sources need an acidic component to help convert it to the haem form. This is why vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is often found in iron supplements, as it is well known for its ability to help absorb iron. Vitamin C is found in many different fruits and vegetables and should be eaten alongside non-haem foods.
How can you improve your child’s iron intake? Try to include iron-rich foods with each main meal eat foods high in vitamin C (fruits and vegetables) to increase the absorption of iron from your food. Avoid your teenagers drinking tea, coffee or taking calcium supplements while eating iron-rich foods. Speak with your dietitian if you think your child is not receiving enough iron from their diet. A dietitian or paediatrician in Sunshine North can help to carefully plan your child’s diet to ensure they receive enough iron every day. Help build your child’s healthy eating habits with all the iron they need and start taking small steps to include “Mr. I”, the invisible mineral in your diet.
Dr Raj Khillan