Ever wonder why so many cereals and infant formulas are fortified with iron? Iron is a nutrient that's needed to make hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells (RBCs).
Red blood cells circulate throughout the body to deliver oxygen to all its cells. Without enough iron, the body can't make enough RBCs, and tissues and organs won't get the oxygen they need. So it's important for kids and teens to get enough iron in their daily diets.
Kids require different amounts of iron at various ages and stages. Here's how much they should be getting as they grow:
Iron deficiency (when the body's iron stores are becoming depleted) can be a problem for some kids, particularly toddlers and teens (especially girls who have very heavy periods). In fact, many teenage girls are at risk for iron deficiency — even if they have normal periods — if their diets don't contain enough iron to offset the loss of iron-containing RBCs during menstrual bleeding. Also, teen athletes lose iron through sweating and other routes during intense exercise.
After 12 months of age, toddlers are at risk for iron deficiency because they no longer drink iron-fortified formula and may not be eating iron-fortified infant cereal or enough other iron-containing foods to make up the difference.
Drinking a lot of cow's milk (more than 24 fluid ounces [710 milliliters] every day) can also put a toddler at risk of developing iron deficiency. Here's why:
Iron deficiency can affect growth and may lead to learning and behavioral problems. And it can progress to iron-deficiency anemia (a decrease in the number of RBCs in the body).
Many people with iron-deficiency anemia don't have any signs and symptoms because the body's iron supply is depleted slowly. But as the anemia progresses, some of these symptoms may appear:
If your child has any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor, who might do a simple blood test to look for iron-deficiency anemia and may prescribe iron supplements. However, because excessive iron intake can also cause health problems, you should never give your child iron supplements without first consulting your doctor.
Although iron from meat sources is more easily absorbed by the body than that from plant foods, all of these iron-rich foods can make a diet more nutritious:
Here are other ways you can make sure kids get enough iron:
Stock up on iron-rich or fortified foods for meals and snacking, and serve some every day. And be sure to teach kids that iron is an important part of a healthy diet.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: February 2012
|Iron Disorders Institute Iron Disorders Institute's mission is to reduce pain, suffering, and death because of disorders such as hereditary hemochromatosis, acquired iron overload, porphyria cutanea tarda, sideroblastic anemia, thalassemia, African siderosis, iron deficiency anemia, and anemia of chronic disease.|
|U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.|
|Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Offering nutrition information, resources, and access to registered dietitians.|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|ChooseMyPlate.gov ChooseMyPlate.gov provides practical information on how to follow the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It includes resources and tools to help families lead healthier lives.|
|U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) The USDA works to enhance the quality of life for people by supporting the production of agriculture.|
|Word! Anemia People who have anemia have fewer red blood cells than normal, which can make them feel tired because not enough oxygen is getting to their bodies' cells.|
|Minerals Just like vitamins, minerals help your body grow, develop, and stay healthy. Find out more about minerals in this article for kids.|
|Coping With Common Period Problems Many girls have to deal with PMS, cramps, or headaches around the time of their periods. These problems are usually nothing to worry about. Get the facts on which period problems are normal and which ones might indicate something's going on.|
|Vitamins and Minerals Vitamins and minerals are nutrients that the body needs to work properly. They boost the immune system, promote normal growth and development, and help cells and organs do their jobs.|
|Vegetarianism Vegetarian diets have become more popular, and many parents may wonder if kids can safely follow a vegetarian diet and still get all the nutrients necessary for growing up healthy and strong.|
|Iron-Deficiency Anemia Iron helps the body carry oxygen in the blood and plays a key role in brain and muscle function. Too little iron can lead to iron deficiency anemia. Read more here.|
|Anemia Anemia is common in teens because they undergo rapid growth spurts, when the body has a greater need for nutrients like iron. Learn about anemia, including how to lower your risk of getting it and how it's treated.|
|About Anemia What does it mean when a kid has anemia? Learn about anemia, why kids get it, and how it's treated in our article for kids.|
|Anemia Anemia, one of the more common blood disorders, occurs when the number of healthy red blood cells decreases. This can result in a variety of symptoms, including fatigue and stress on all the body's organs.|
|What's a Vegetarian? You probably know a vegetarian doesn't eat meat, but did you know there's more than just one kind of vegetarian? Find out more in this article for kids.|
|Blood Test: Ferritin (Iron) Doctors may order a ferritin test when they suspect kids have too little or too much iron in their bodies.|
|Becoming a Vegetarian People choose vegetarianism for a variety of reasons. This article describes different types of vegetarianism and provides advice on ways for vegetarians to get all the nutrients they need.|
|Food Labels Look at any packaged food and you'll see the food label. This nutrition facts label gives the lowdown on everything from calories to cholesterol. Read more about food labels.|
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