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1 University College Hospital How to get enough iron in your child s diet Information for parents and guardians Department of Nutrition & Dietetics (Paediatrics)

2 If you would like this document in another language or format, or require the services of an interpreter, contact us on We will do our best to meet your needs. Contents 1. Introduction why is dietary iron important? 2 2. Iron requirements for children 3 3. Good sources of dietary iron 4 4. Sources of dietary iron (toddlers) 5 5. Sources of dietary iron (school children) 6 6. Iron rich meals and snacks 7 7. Do s and Don ts 8 8. Iron supplements 9 9. Contact details Notes 10 1

3 Introduction why is iron important? Iron is very important as it helps to make haemoglobin in red blood cells. Haemoglobin helps to transport oxygen around the body. Iron also has other important functions in the body. It is important that children get enough iron in their diet to prevent them from becoming anaemic. When children are anaemic their blood is unable to supply all the oxygen that their body needs. Signs and symptoms of anaemia can include: feeling tired, looking pale, irritable behaviour, poor appetite and suffering from lots of infections. Anaemia can also slow down a child s mental development. There are many types of anaemia but the most common is caused by not enough iron in the diet. If your child does not eat enough foods containing iron, their iron levels in their blood may be low. 2

4 Iron requirements for children If a mother s iron status has been good during pregnancy, a healthy term new-born baby should have enough iron stores in their body to last about 6 months. Breast milk and standard infant formula milk will provide enough iron for the first 6 months of a baby s life but after that weaning foods should include iron rich sources to meet their iron needs. Dietary iron RNI s* for children 0-3 months 1.7mg/day 4-6 months 4.3mg/day 7-9 months 7.8mg/day months 7.8mg/day 1-3 years 6.9mg/day 4-6 years 6.1mg/day 7-10 years 8.7mg/day years (boys) 11.3mg/day years (girls) 14.8mg/day *RNI = Reference nutrient intake. A reference nutrient intake is the amount of a nutrient that is enough, or more than enough for most infants and toddlers. 3

5 Good sources of dietary iron Haem iron sources (animal sources): Best source of iron as absorbed easily in the body Red meat (beef, lamb, pork) Dark poultry meat (chicken legs and thighs) Fish, especially oily fish Liver (limit once per week) Eggs Non- haem iron sources (non-animal sources): Not as easily absorbed as animal iron sources but it is still important to include these foods in your child s diet especially if your child does not eat animal sources of iron Nuts and seeds Lentils, pulses and beans Tofu Breakfast cereals fortified with iron Bread Dried fruit (dried apricots, raisins and prunes) Dark green leafy vegetables 4

6 Sources of dietary iron (toddlers) Food Toddler serving size Haem iron content per serving Liver 3 teaspoons (15g) 1.4mg Lean beef 5 teaspoons (25g) 0.7mg Lean lamb 5 teaspoons (25g) 0.5mg Lean pork 5 teaspoons (25g) 0.2mg Dark poultry meat 5 teaspoons (25g) 0.2mg Chicken breast 5 teaspoons (25g) 0.1mg Fish 5 teaspoons (25g) 0.15mg Food Toddler serving size Non haem iron content per serving Fortified breakfast cereal 3 teaspoons (15g) 1.8mg Egg 1 small egg 1.0mg White bread 1 slice 0.4mg Cooked lentils 3 teaspoons (15g) 0.4mg Dried apricots 4 apricots (15g) 0.5mg Steamed/fried tofu 4 teaspoons (20g) 0.5mg Cooked chickpeas 4 teaspoons (20g) 0.3mg Banana 1 small banana 0.3mg Cooked broccoli 3 teaspoons (15g) 0.15mg 5

7 Sources of dietary iron (school aged children) Food School aged child serving size Haem iron content per serving Liver 2-3 teaspoons (30-45g) mg Lean beef 3-5 tablespoons (50 75g) mg Lean lamb 3-5 tablespoons (50 75g) mg Lean pork 3-5 tablespoons (50 75g) mg Dark poultry meat 3-5 tablespoons (50 75g) mg Chicken breast 3-5 tablespoons (50 75g) mg Fish 3-5 tablespoons (50 75g) mg Food School aged child serving size Non haem iron content per serving Fortified breakfast cereal 1-2 tablespoons (15-30g) mg Egg 1 medium egg 1.5mg White bread 1-2 slices mg Cooked lentils 2 3 tablespoons (30-45g) mg Dried apricots 8 apricots (30g) 1.0mg Steamed/fried tofu 2 3 tablespoons (30-45g) mg Cooked chickpeas 2 3 tablespoons (30-45g) mg Banana 1 small banana 0.3mg Cooked broccoli 2-3 tablespoons (30-45g) mg 6

8 Iron rich meals and snacks Breakfast: Fortified breakfast cereal alongside some fruit Eggs with toast and sliced tomato or followed with some fruit e.g. banana, orange segments, grapes Light meals/snacks: Ham or other cold meat sandwich and sandwich Fish sandwich/bagel Hummous with pitta bread and carrot sticks Peanut butter sandwich with tomatoes Baked beans on toast and slices of red peppers Toast with chicken liver pate Main meals: Meal with red meat or dark poultry meat e.g beef spaghetti bolognese with vegetables Meal with fish e.g. salmon/tuna with potatoes and vegetables Meal with tofu e.g. tofu and vegetable stir-fry with rice Meal with beans/lentils e.g. beans with sweet potatoes and salad Omelette with added vegetables Puddings: Dried fruit and fresh fruit 7

9 Do s: Vitamin C (sometimes called ascorbic acid) may help the body to absorb iron, especially if taken alongside nonanimal sources of iron. Fruit and vegetables are good sources of vitamin C. Some good sources include oranges, kiwi, watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, tomatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, red peppers, green peppers, spinach and cabbage. Offer your child a source of vitamin C with every meal. Don ts: Do not offer your child tea to drink because this reduces iron absorption in the body. Do not offer cow s milk as a drink to babies under one year of age as cow s milk is a poor source of iron. Toddlers who drink too much cow s milk and do not eat a healthy balanced diet may not get enough iron as cow s milk is a poor source of iron. After your child s first birthday, about three drinks of 120ml (4oz) of cow s milk per day should be enough for their calcium needs. Other sources of dairy can be offered, for example, cheese and yoghurts. 8

10 Iron supplements: Most children should be able to get all the iron they need by eating a varied and balanced diet and should not need to take iron tablets. If your child s iron level is very low your doctor may prescribe iron supplement Iron supplements can cause constipation in some children. Speak to your doctor if your child has any unusual side effects. Contact details: Paediatric Dietitians Nutrition and Dietetic Department (University College Hospital) 3 rd Floor East 250 Euston Road NW1 2PG Direct line: Extension: Fax: Switchboard: /

11 Notes: 10

12 First published: December 2014 Date last reviewed: December 2014 Date next review due: December 2016 Leaflet code: UCLH/MB/CS/DIETCS/IRON-PAEDS/1 University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 11

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