Iron - Micronutrients and your children

Iron is an essential mineral which is significantly involved in various bodily functions.  One of the most important functions that iron performs is transporting oxygen around the body through the blood. Iron is essential to this process because Iron makes up a protein called haemoglobin which carries oxygen inside red blood cells from the lungs to the rest of the body. Other essential functions of iron include:

  • Proper functioning of the immune system
  • Respiration and energy metabolism
  • An essential component of proteins and enzymes

Because of the many roles iron plays in children’s physical and cognitive development, deficiency is a serious issue. There are a few factors that make deficiency more of a risk with the most prominent being children who are predominantly fed a vegetarian or vegan diet. Signs of iron deficiency include:

  • Lethargy and breathlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Decreased growth
  • Pale skin

To ensure your child is receiving enough iron the Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that children consume between 4-10mg of iron per day from food sources, with this amount increasing to 15mg per day for young adults.

An important consideration when choosing iron-rich foods is the difference between haem iron and non-haem iron as these are absorbed differently by the body. The iron found in plant sources such as grains and vegetables is known as non-haem iron, whereas the iron found in animal food sources such as meat, fish and poultry may be either haem or non-haem. The best sources of iron are foods high in haem iron as these are well absorbed by the body and include beef, lamb, pork, fish and chicken.

Foods rich in iron

Those on meat-free diets can increase their absorption of iron from non-haem sources by combining plant food sources of iron with foods high in vitamin C as this helps to increase absorption.

It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet, exercise, supplementation or medication program.