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Parenting

Iron Rich Foods for Babies and Children

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There are so many things to think and worry about as a new mother and feeding your baby is an entire category that can be broken down into countless questions, concerns and conundrums. One thing you’re probably well aware of is that your infant needs adequate nutrition, especially in those early weeks and months, to ensure that he or she grows and develops properly and to help arm their immune system so that it can ward off various illnesses of all kinds.

One of the most important nutrients that your baby needs is iron, a mineral that aids in a myriad of bodily functions, including helping red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the body, aiding in the storage of oxygen within the muscles and supporting neurological development, explains Dr Taylor Wallace, CEO of Think Healthy Group and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at George Mason University. Dr Wallace shares his insights on iron along with his list of the 9 most iron rich foods.

How Much Iron Do Babies and Children Need?

Full-term newborns are born with a reserve of iron that comes from the mother’s blood and this supply continues for those that are breastfed. Infant formulas in the U.S. are also fortified with the nutrient, so they should be getting their fair share— 0.27 mg for babies 0-6 months, 7 mg for babies 7-12 months and 7 mg for toddlers 1-3 years, per the National Institutes of Health. Once babies start consuming solids (around 6 months of age), they can also start scoring iron from some of the new foods they’re eating. 

A Complete List of Iron Rich Foods

Once your little one’s munching on the good stuff, you’ll want to keep a closer eye on the food he’s eating to make sure he’s getting his recommended daily intake of iron. Here is a look at some baby foods that are rich in iron

Sweet potato

This orange root vegetable is a great first food for your little one—and you can start serving this up in pureed form around 4-6 months of age. Not only are they sweet and loaded with good-for-her nutrients such as protein, fiber, along with vitamins A, C, B6 and potassium, but sweet potatoes are also rich in iron. One-fourth cup contains 0.2 mg of iron, which is almost your baby’s entire RDA. 

Eggs

Eggs are a superfood for growing infants, mainly because they contain choline, a nutrient that’s akin to folate and helps foster proper brain development. Eggs are also rich in iron. One egg contains 0.6 mg of iron, so even if your baby consumes half of a single scrambled egg, they’re getting close to their RDA. 

Chicken

While you might hold off on meat for your baby until around 6-7 months when they’re better able to chew it with their gums, chicken is a great choice. It’s loaded with protein and contains 0.4 mg of iron in just one single ounce. If you’re just starting your baby on chicken, a great way to serve it is by pureeing it in a blender with a little salt-free chicken broth. 

Lentils

If lentils are already part of your diet, you’re in luck. These nutrient powerhouses have just about everything you and your baby need—protein, fiber and a healthy dose of iron. Just one teaspoon of boiled lentils contains 0.4 mg of iron. Once boiled you can mash them up into a puree or leave them as is for your baby to grasp. 

Fortified infant cereal

Most infant cereals in the U.S. are fortified with iron, providing around 45 percent of your child’s RDA. Other nutrients that these cereals tend to contain include vitamins C and E, zinc, calcium and B vitamins, too. 

Black beans

Black beans offer 3.61 mg of iron per cup, but your baby certainly won’t be eating that much in a given sitting. A more realistic amount for a baby is about an ounce, which comes out to about 0.4 mg of iron.

Cashew butter

Cashew butter is a delicious treat for your baby that’s also high in protein, zinc, fiber and iron. Just one teaspoon contains 0.3 mg. You can start serving up cashew butter around 6 months—just make sure it’s spread thinly on a piece of toast or cracker. 

Tofu

Tofu might not be one of the first foods that comes to mind to make for your baby, but it’s quite nutritious. This plant-based protein is backed with omega-3 fatty acid, zinc and iron. Just one ounce of tofu contains 1.5 mg of iron, which is well over your baby’s RDA.

Beef

Beef, especially when it’s ground, is quite nutritious for a growing and developing baby. Just one ounce of ground beef (85 percent lean) contains 0.7 mg of iron. You can start serving up red meat such as beef at around 6 months—just be sure to avoid serving steak in cubes, as it could pose a choking risk.

Heme Iron vs. Non-Heme Iron

Iron foods are split into two groups: heme iron and non-heme iron. Iron in animal-derived foods is known as heme iron, which is more easily absorbed by the body, Dr. Wallace explains. Plant foods, such as black beans and lentils, on the other hand, contain non-heme iron, which is harder for the body to absorb.

How Much Iron Can Be Obtained Through Food?

Just as it’s possible to consume too little iron, it’s also possible to eat too much. “Vegetarians and vegans have a hard time getting enough and it’s never a good idea to keep your baby on these types of diets, as many nutrients critical for brain development (iron, choline, vitamin B12, DHA/EPA, etc) are predominantly found in animal-derived foods,” says Dr. Wallace.

How can I increase my child’s iron naturally?

Glad you asked. There are ways to make sure the iron being ingested is best paired and absorbed.

Tips for Better Iron Absorption

To help ensure your child is getting enough iron, it’s a good idea to start introducing solids once your baby is deemed developmentally ready. For most babies, this is around 6 months of age. When doing so, here are a few pointers to follow to make sure you’re upping your baby’s iron intake.

Pair Iron Rich Foods with Foods Rich in Vitamin C

Plenty of iron research has shown that adding vitamin C to iron-rich foods can help increase the amount the body absorbs. Consider pairing iron-rich foods with foods high in vitamin C, including citrus fruits, bell peppers and tomatoes. Just be sure to cut them up to the proper size for your little one’s age. 

Serve More Foods with Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene

Another important vitamin your baby should be getting is vitamin A, as it helps promote proper vision, bolsters your immune system and encourages growth, per the NIH Vitamin A research. Just like vitamin C, vitamin A has been shown to help increase iron absorption, so it’s a good idea to include foods rich in this nutrient, such as leafy greens, cantaloupe, mango, milk and eggs. 

Calcium Rich Foods Can Limit Iron Absorption

Calcium-rich foods are great additions to your newborn’s diet, however, it’s a good idea not to go overboard. In fact, doing so could hinder iron absorption, according to calcium research. Examples of calcium-rich foods include milk, yogurt and cheese.

Limit Polyphenols

Plant polyphenols can limit iron absorption. Whole plant foods are often great sources of nutrition for babies and children but it’s always a good idea to check with your HCP to make sure their iron levels are adequate and to consider an iron supplement if needed.

Health Risks of Excessive Iron

While iron is an essential nutrient for Infants and young children, it is possible, though rare, for a young child to have “iron-poisoning.” This tends to occur after accidentally ingesting iron supplements, explains Dr. Wallace. “Iron poisoning is not easily achieved through intake of food, unless your infant is consuming significant amounts of liver, which is not recommended for a number of reasons,” he adds.

FAQ

What vegetables are high in iron for babies?

Leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, contain lots of iron. Other vegetables that are rich in this nutrient include sweet potatoes and broccoli.

Which fruits are high in iron for babies?

Fruits high in iron include bananas, pomegranates and apples. When serving up these fruits, be sure to cut them to the proper sizes so that they don’t pose a choking risk to your baby.

Is banana rich in iron?

Yes, bananas are rich in iron and are an excellent choice of fruit to serve up to your baby, since they’re also high in potassium.

Are carrots high in iron?

Not only do carrots contain iron, but they also may help enhance your baby’s absorption of other iron-rich foods. 

Is potato rich in iron?

Yes, potatoes are rich in iron, containing about 0.6 mg in just one half-cup.

What food is highest in iron?

The food that is highest in iron is shellfish. Since shellfish is a highly allergenic food, it’s a good idea to speak to your pediatrician before serving this up to your baby. Most likely, you’ll get the green light to do so around 6-8 months. 

How can I boost my baby’s iron?

You can boost your baby’s iron intake by incorporating iron-rich foods such as those we discussed above.

All in all, it’s clear to see that iron is a nutrient you don’t want your baby to be missing out on—you just want to be smart about when and how you serve it up to ensure she’s getting her fair share and in proper doses. 

The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant's pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.
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The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant’s pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.

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Author Jenn Sinrich

Jenn Sinrich is an experienced writer, digital and social editor and content strategist in Boston, Massachusetts. She's written for several publications including SELF, Women's Health, Martha Stewart Weddings, Reader's Digest, PureWow, and many more. She covers various topics, from health and fitness to love and sex.