We all want our kids to grow up to be strong and resilient. But too often, something like iron deficiency can hold them back. Iron deficiency is very common in children and can affect their health and well-being. Initially, it can just cause general tiredness and struggling to keep on task. But left untreated, anaemia can affect a child’s development, including key milestones such as walking and talking.
Iron deficiency can also lead to poor growth and behavioural problems. A child’s immune function can also be affected, leaving them more at risk of infection and take longer to recover. The great news is that it’s simple to test, and if your little one is iron-deficient, this is usually super-easy to reverse. Learn more about mighty iron and why it is such important brain and immunity fuel for your children.
Iron is a crucial mineral in the human body that helps make haemoglobin, the part in red blood cells that pumps oxygen throughout the body. Without enough iron, the body is unable to make haemoglobin, resulting in a reduction of red blood cells leading, in some cases, to the child becoming anaemic.
Iron is also essential for your little one’s growth, development and ability to learn. Low iron stores have been linked to mood disorders, autism spectrum conditions and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is important to support iron levels when they are younger as infant iron deficiency has been associated with teenage anxiety and social problems. This is why it is important to sort out their nutrition when they are young, so that greater issues do not develop when they are older.
Signs & physical symptoms
There are many signs and symptoms of iron deficiency and these often can include – pale skin, tiredness, general weakness, headaches, poor appetite, shortness of breath, dizziness, tongue swelling, tingling in the legs, and slow growth rate. The less common signs can include hair loss, feeling itchy, a change in taste, difficulty swallowing and spoon-shaped nails. There is also a condition called PICA which is associated with iron and zinc deficiencies and this manifests as a desire to eat strange non-food items such as ice, dirt, stones, paper or tissues.
By far and away the biggest cause of iron deficiency in children is an iron deficient diet and is common in picky eaters. If your child does not eat red meat, lentils, green leafy vegetables or eggs then they will be more prone to becoming anaemic. Children who eat a vegan or vegetarian diet, have Coeliac disease, thyroid conditions, or chronic threadworm are also more susceptible.
It is particularly common in toddlers as they are experiencing rapid growth rates and moving on from relying on the natural iron in breast milk or the iron added to infant formula. Teenagers are also more susceptible to anaemia as they again are going through huge physical developments and may make questionable diet choices. Teenage girls with particularly heavy periods can also often suffer more with iron deficiency. There are also several genetic conditions also exist preventing the body from absorbing iron properly and these will need medical support.
What to do if you suspect your child is iron-deficient?
A routine full blood count test will show if your child has a low haemoglobin level. If this is the case then a further test to count their ferritin levels will determine if this is the result of an iron deficiency. Ferritin is an indicator of the amount of iron stored in the body and a count of over 50 is ideal.
The easiest way to prevent iron deficiencies or restore iron levels is to include high iron foods like:
- Red meat from grass-fed beef, lamb or venison
- Chicken liver
Other sources of plant-formed iron are:
- Beans (kidney beans, black beans)
- Brown rice
- Goji berries
- Leafy greens including spinach and kale
- Sesame seeds (tahini)
- Sweet potato
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Floravital – a liquid iron & vitamin formula containing herbal extracts and fruit juice concentrates.
- Spatone – a 100% natural daily iron rich water supplement in an easy to absorb form.
- Baobab Powder – a good source of vitamin C, potassium, carbohydrates, and phosphorus.
- Dried Mulberries – contain high levels of protein and iron and are also a rich source of vitamin C, fibre, calcium, and antioxidants.
- Goji Berries – a good source of vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, fibre, iron, vitamin A, zinc and antioxidants.
- Biltong – a natural means of raising iron levels in the blood to overcome anaemia.
Another important consideration is to ensure your child is eating enough food high in vitamin C as this will increase the natural absorption of iron by up to 3 times. Such foods include: citrus fruits, potatoes, broccoli, red peppers, kiwi fruit and strawberries.
Here are two of my most popular child-friendly recipes for easy to make yummy healthy drinks high in both natural iron and vitamin C:
In some cases, iron supplements will be needed. Always take these under the supervision of your healthcare practitioner and again, also add a vitamin C supplement to increase the absorption rate of the iron.
So, as you can see: if your child is deficient in iron there’s a huge range of things you can do nutritionally to boost their levels to bring them back to the full of energy healthy little monkey they should be. Why not share any top tips you have in boosting up your child’s iron the comments below?
- Low Blood Zinc, Iron, and Other Sociodemographic Factors Associated with Behavior Problems in Preschoolers
- Integrated strategies needed to prevent iron deficiency and to promote early child development.
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Impact of iron deficiency anemia on the function of the immune system in children.
- Preventive zinc supplementation for children, and the effect of additional iron: a systematic review and meta-analysis
- Infant Iron Deficiency and Iron Supplementation Predict Adolescent Internalizing, Externalizing, and Social Problems
- Association between psychiatric disorders and iron deficiency anemia among children and adolescents: a nationwide population-based study.
Hello, does an intolerance to dairy products and/or gluten promote anaemia in children?
Occasionally inflammation triggered by food intolerances can hinder absorption of nutrients such as iron. Too much milk can also block iron absorption.
Does feeling the cold to extremities indicate low iron too? One Dairy and Gluten free child here, both kids follow the same diet but the cold really gets to one and not the other. We follow many of your recipes and get in as much diversity as we can. Would love a blog post on dealing with cold weather/chilblains etc in kids. Thank you.
Yes when you are low in iron you can feel the cold – also check thyroid health and improve circulation through warming spices like ginger and cayenne
What dose of iron would you recommend for a 4 year old with low ferritin (blood count 11) to boost iron alongside foods?
Hi Gilly, if your son has a low ferritin count I would get a prescription iron supplement, as the dosage is much higher than any products you can buy over the counter. You are looking to raise this to over 30 and ideally over 70 for optimal energy and cognitive function which will take time.
Ah I see, thank you so much the doctor did not offer but I have a prescription now.