Iron Supplements for Kids: A Comprehensive Guide for Parents
Why does my child need iron?
Iron plays a very important role in your child’s nutrition. Iron is what produces hemoglobin, a protein in the red blood cells that aid the blood in carrying oxygen and delivering it to all the other cells in the body. Because of hemoglobin, your child is able to produce healthy red blood cells to support their growing muscles and tissues with the oxygen they need.
Iron is also important for boosting the immune system and keeping sickness at bay. Not getting enough iron can mean more infections, more colds, and other potential illnesses.
How much iron does my child need?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the recommended amount of iron for a 1 to 3-year-old child is 7 milligrams per day. Children who are 4 to 8 years of age will need an average of 10 milligrams of iron per day.
Iron can also be very toxic if taken too often or in large amounts. Always speak to your pediatrician before supplementing your child’s diet with additional iron. Do not give children under the age of 14 more than 40 milligrams of iron per day.
Iron is a very important nutrient for a rapidly growing toddler. It is very important that you make sure your child gets enough iron in their diet, even if that means including an iron supplement.
It is important that you balance fortified foods and supplements with foods that are naturally high in iron.
What causes iron deficiency in children?
Regardless of age or phase in life, the human body requires a steady supply of iron. The reason iron deficiencies are common in children is because their bodies are still growing and developing.
Iron deficiencies in children can be caused by several factors, many of which revolve around their diets. Typically, children are most likely to develop a deficiency after breastfeeding, when they are starting to eat solid foods.
Here are a few reasons children could be a risk for iron deficiency:
- Children who were born premature or had a low birth weight
- Children who were born to mothers who are anemic
- Medical conditions that affect blood cells such as sickle-cell trait
- Children who primarily consume a vegan or vegetarian diet
- Children who drink or eat too much dairy
- Children who may have been exposed to lead
- Picky Eaters who do not eat well-balanced meals
- Adolescents going through rapid-growth, puberty, or menstruation
Iron deficiency can lead to physical, learning, and behavioral issues in children, like delayed motor skills and growth, short attention span, weakened muscles, and reduced alertness. Low iron levels can also increase risk of infection and make it more difficult to recover.
What is anemia in children?
Many young children, in particular toddlers, are at risk for are at risk for iron deficiency, which is the most common cause of anemia in children.
Generally, anemia is defined as a hemoglobin level of less than the 5th percentile for any age. In children, when the number of red blood cells in the body is decreased below what is considered normal for your child's age, it creates an anemic condition.
Child anemia is caused when a child’s body is unable to produce an adequate number of healthy red blood cells. Because of this, oxygen is not properly transported through the body, causing serious symptoms and long-term damage.
What are the different types of iron?
All iron is not created equally, and if your child suffers from an iron-disorder or imbalance, it is important to know which types of iron can better benefit their health.
There are two forms of dietary iron: heme iron and non-heme iron.
Heme iron is only found in animal products or animal-based iron supplements. Red meat, poultry, seafood and fish all contain different amounts of heme iron with red meat having the highest levels. Heme iron is found predominantly in the blood and muscle, and is absorbed better by the body than non-heme iron. Your child’s body will absorb about 15% to 35% of that amount of heme iron is consumed. This means your child can eat less meat to gain more iron. However, too much heme iron can increase the risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease and metabolic issues in children.
Non-heme iron is found in plant-based foods including beans, grains, leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. This type of iron is absorbed at a slower pace than heme iron, allowing your body to moderate it better. 2%-20% of non heme iron is absorbed by the body, which means you would need to eat a lot more greens to gain more iron. The good thing about non-heme iron is that it poses a lower risk of causing iron toxicity, even when consumed in large amounts.
In reality, a well-rounded, nutritious diet will most likely contain both heme and non-heme iron. Your child’s body recognizes the difference between the two iron sources and will absorb each type differently.
What are the different types of iron supplements?
In many cases, children need to take iron supplements to boost their iron levels. This is especially true if you have a Picky Eater or your child has dietary restrictions or is allergic to foods that contain high amounts of iron.
If dietary changes alone are not adequate enough to bring a child’s iron up to a healthy level, your pediatrician may recommend taking iron supplements by mouth.
There are several types of iron supplements for children and they each have their benefits and cons. Whichever you choose, make sure the iron supplement is safe for kids. It is also crucial that you store your iron vitamins correctly and out of the reach of your child. Adult iron supplements contain way more iron than what is required for a child. Here are a few iron supplements that are safe for children:
Liquid Iron Supplements for Children
Typically, liquid iron supplements are the most easily absorbed by the body. These drops are usually placed right into the child’s mouth with a dropper. The drawback here is that liquid iron can stain your child’s teeth, so it is recommended that you brush their teeth right after they take it.
Chewable Iron Supplements for Children
Chewables are a great way to give iron to children because they are easy for them to eat and often come in great flavors. It also takes away the stress of having to measure the correct dosage. Many chewable tablets have lower doses of iron than the liquid format, so check with your pediatrician and ask how many your child would need to take per day.
Renzo’s Vitamins offers a great chewable iron for kids that contains no sugar. Their Iron Strong tablets are also vegan, allergen-free and non-GMO. Another great benefit of Renzo’s is that their tablets dissolve in your child’s mouth, so there is little risk of your child choking on them. You can also dissolve them into your child’s food if you have a Picky Eater.
Powder Iron Supplements for Children
Powder iron supplements are useful because like Renzo’s Vitamins, they can be easily added into your child’s food. The drawback with powders is they often have a stronger taste, and that taste can be hard to hide even when added to foods or smoothies.
Syrup Iron Supplements for Children
Syrup iron supplements are similar to liquid supplements, except they tend to taste better to children. The problem with syrups is that they also have to be carefully measured, plus they typically contain additives that are not so great for your child.
Gummies Iron Supplement for Children
Gummies tend to be a popular choice for parents because they look and taste like candy, therefore are easy to get your kids to eat. However, gummies are often filled with a lot of sugar and bad ingredients including corn syrup, artificial flavoring, and gelatin, which is terrible for your child’s teeth.
More and more families are changing the way they eat, and are implementing new dietary restrictions in their homes, including what they feed to their kids. Although these changes can be beneficial, sometimes they can leave you with a diet that is lacking certain essential nutrients, particularly iron.
While most breastfed babies get enough iron from mother’s milk, bottle-fed babies will need a formula that is iron-fortified. And once they start eating, they need to get the right amount of iron-rich foods in their daily diet. Premature and low-birth-weight infants typically require more iron than full-term, normal-weight babies.
This is why it is important for kids to build an appetite for iron-rich foods and not continue to fill up on milk and dairy - which contain NO IRON. It is important that you balance these fortified foods out with foods that are naturally high in iron.
The type of diet you choose to feed your kids is up to you. Fortunately, there are many delicious foods and healthy nutrients that can be combined to help reduce or increase iron absorption in your child’s meals. Whether you are a vegetarian, vegan, or paleo you can find the right iron-fortified diet for your family.
Here are some iron-rich foods for children that you can include in your meals:
Lean meat and poultry are good sources of iron because they contain large amounts of heme iron which is easier for the body to absorb. If your child eats a vegan, vegetarian or mostly vegetarian diet, aim for twice as much iron as the recommended amount.
- Chicken (dark meat)
- Turkey (dark meat)
- Beef, organ meats, liver
Fortified-iron and low-sugar cereals like oatmeal are one of the best ways to ensure your toddler gets enough iron - without the extra sugar. A serving of iron-fortified cereals and oatmeal typically has 100 percent of the daily value for iron in just one serving. But even though there are plenty of iron-fortified foods out there, that doesn’t mean they are healthy for your toddler. Make sure you read the label, as some iron-fortified cereals and breads are high in sugar and low in fiber.
- Brown rice
If you are aiming to give your kids a vegan or vegetarian diet, or your picky child isn’t a fan of meat, beans are a fantastic compromise! Soybeans, lima beans, kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils, for example, are loaded with essential vitamins and minerals, including iron. A half cup of white beans has 4 milligrams of iron, while a half cup of lentils has 3. Not too bad for beans!
- lentil beans
- lima beans
- soy beans
- kidney beans
Iron heavy seeds such as pumpkin seed contain nearly 6 milligrams of iron per half cup. A great way to make them more appealing is to add them to a trail mix with raisins, prunes, dried apricots. Just keep in mind that raisins and seeds could potentially be choking hazards for very young children! Make sure you mash or cut large seeds into smaller pieces and keep watch on your toddler while they munch on them.
- pumpkin seeds
- sunflower seeds
- squash seeds
- sesame seeds
Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach are among your best vegetable options for getting iron. A half cup of leafy greens typically has about 3 milligrams of iron. If your kid isn’t into greens, try being sneaky with it and add a few chopped greens to your toddler’s favorite dish - they probably won’t even notice!
What Foods Help WIth Iron Absorption?
Your child’s body will absorb iron better when the iron is ingested along with a source of vitamin C! To increase the amount of iron absorbed by the body, serve iron-rich foods alongside foods rich in vitamin C:
- orange juice
- bell peppers
- sweet potatoes
Iron-Rich Recipes For Children
It can be hard to get children to eat the right healthy foods to help boost their iron levels. And if you have a child who is selective about what they like to eat, this is a much harder challenge. But if your child is a picky eater and is also running low on iron, it is even more important to make sure they get in the right food to give them the nutrients they need. Low iron in children can lead to bigger problems later on, but finding iron-rich, kid-friendly foods can be a hard task for us parents.
Here are a few iron-rich food recipes for children that can help them grow into strong and healthy adults:
Healthy PB and Jelly: Cashew Butter & 2-Ingredient Prune Preserved Sandwich
- 2 slices sprouted grain bread, an artisan or a whole wheat bread
- 2 T plum preserve
- 2 T cashew butter
- 6 cups of dried prunes
- 8 cups of filtered water
Directions for preserve:
Soak 6 cups of dried prunes in enough filtered water to cover for approx. 20 min. Blend with one cup of that prune juice and save in a jar in your fridge! That easy!!!
Make your sandwich with a sprouted grain bread, an artisan or a whole wheat bread with clean ingredients (aka no additional oils or sugars in the ingredient list). We are using cashew butter because it has higher iron content compared to peanuts!
Spinach and Zucchini Pancakes
- 6-8 cups spinach
- 3 bananas
- 1/2 cup almond yogurt
- 1 1/2 cup GF oats
- 1 t baking powder
- 2 T chia seeds soaked
- 4 T filtered water
- 1/2 medium zucchini (thinly sliced)
Soak chia seeds with filtered water for 5 minutes. Meanwhile add to your blender spinach, bananas, almond yogurt, gluten-free oats and baking powder. When the chia becomes a gel, add it to the blended mixture.
Grease a pan with some coconut oil and with a 1/4 cup measure pour the mixture to form the pancakes and immediately add thinly sliced zucchini on top of each pancake when it is still wet. Cook 3 min per side and enjoy with some maple syrup!
Tahini-Miso- Kale-Asparagus & Mushrooms Creamy Rice
This brown rice tastes just like risotto! Plus, it's loaded with iron-rich foods like kale, asparagus, tahini, miso and sesame seeds! Try it and it will become a regular in your weekly menu.
For the rice:
- 2 cup brown basmati rice (soaked overnight in water and 1 T white vinegar)
- 2 cups veggie broth
- 2 cups coconut milk
For the veggies:
- 1 cup sliced crimini mushrooms
- 1 cup kale leaves (no stem)
- 1 cup chopped asparagus
- 1 T coconut oil
- 2 T white miso paste
- 2 T tahini paste
- 2 T sesame seeds
Rinse rice and cook with the veggie broth and coconut milk at medium heat until tender. Approx 15-20 min.
In a separate pan, sauté the minced garlic, kale, mushrooms, and asparagus with the coconut oil for around 5 minutes.
Mix the veggies with the rice, then add the white miso, tahini paste, and sesame seeds!