Understanding The Importance Of Iron In Your Child's Diet & How To Make Sure They're Getting Enough | Growing Up Herbal | Understand why iron is an important part of your child's diet and how to make sure they're getting enough.

I do. It makes me think that the doctor thinks I feed my kid junk all the time or that I don’t give him his gummy vitamins, when in reality… he’s just dang picky, and all he wants to eat is PB&J sandwiches… cut like a puzzle piece of course!

So if you, like me, want to know more about iron and how to boost your toddlers iron level, then stick around because I’ll be talking about today.

Here are some things I’ll be covering in this post:

  • What iron is
  • Why it’s an important mineral your child’s body needs
  • What happens when your child doesn’t get enough iron
  • Complications of too much iron
  • Dietary sources of iron
  • Iron supplements

Are you ready?

What Exactly Is Iron?

Iron is a mineral found in the earth. It’s the 26th element on the periodic table, and it’s symbol is Fe. It’s the most common element that makes up the planet Earth, and is fourth most common element in the Earth’s crust.

Oh yeah… and we need it in our bodies to be healthy.

The Importance of Iron

Iron is found in the body’s red blood cells… in the hemoglobin to be exact, and it’s what makes the blood red. It helps the red blood cells to carry oxygen molecules around the body. Essentially… it keeps you and your little one alive. It’s very important to our health, and that’s why it’s called an essential element or mineral. [1],[2] It’s also needed to produce myoglobin, which carries oxygen to our muscles, and it affects energy levels, protects against illness and disease, and promotes healthy skin.

When babies are born, they have 4-6 months worth of iron stores that they received from mama during pregnancy. [3] You see, during pregnancy, mama and baby share nutrients via the blood. When baby is born and the placenta detaches from mama, baby still has those nutrients (vitamins, minerals, and immunity) that mama passed to baby in vitro. After a while, the iron stores in baby’s blood are depleted and baby then needs to get it from food sources or supplements. An infant is estimated to recycle 70% of the iron found in her red blood cells when old cells are broke down, but she needs to get the remaining 30% from other sources. This percentage is less for adults. It’s about 95%/5%. [4]

About Iron Deficiency

So what happens if your little one doesn’t have enough iron? They’re then coined as “iron deficient” or “anemic”.

Anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency in the US among children, but it’s numbers are slowly declining thanks to iron-fortified foods.

It’s diagnosed a couple different ways. It can be when your child has fewer red blood cells than he should which is determined by testing the hematocrit or volume of red blood cells in the blood, or it could be when your child’s hemoglobin levels are low and therefore, his red blood cells can’t carry enough oxygen. [5]

Normal hemoglobin levels for 1-10 year old’s should be in the 10-11 range, and normal hematocrit levels for 1-10 year old’s should be in the 33-35% range. [6] Iron deficiency is a slow process. If your child’s levels fall below the recommended ranges for their age, they may be “depleted”, but if it’s not corrected, they will start showing signs of anemia which include:

  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • pale skin
  • cold hands or feet
  • rapid heartbeat
  • newly developed heart murmur
  • decreased appetite
  • irritability
  • dizziness
  • pica – cravings to eat substances such as chalk, paint chips or dirt (rare) [7]

The most common cause of anemia is related to diet. You need to make sure your kid is eating foods that contain iron. If they’re picky or they’re a baby and not eating a lot of iron-containing foods, you may want to supplement in some way.

Some other lesser known causes of anemia can be a lack of Vitamin C and increased levels of lead. Vitamin C is needed to absorb iron. If your little one is low on it, she may be low on iron as well. [8] Studies have also shown links to increased levels of lead in the blood correlating to decreased levels of iron. Most kids these days aren’t at risk for lead exposure, but it is something that can cause serious health problems so keep an eye on it moms! [9]

If your child does end up being diagnosed as anemic, the doctor will most likely suggest a supplement of iron for one month. Then your child’s blood will be retested. If the levels are rising, that’s a good sign that your child is responding to the supplement. You may need to continue on with it until your child’s blood levels are in the normal range, but once you reach that point you should be able to nix the supplement and instead stay on top of their iron issue through their diet.

What About An Iron Overdose?

Iron is an essential mineral. You need it to live, but too much of it can also kill you… and your kid.

Iron overdose is the leading cause of death by poisoning in children under 6 years old, and the most common cause is from children getting into chewable vitamins and eating them like candy. Children have been known to die after ingesting as little as 200mg of iron – that’s equal to 11 Flintstones vitamins… although I know you’re not giving your precious child those! [10]

Symptoms of iron overdose include:

  • Severe vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dehydration and lethargy if not treated adequately

Iron toxicity will depend upon the age and size of the child, but overdose symptoms will start showing when a child has more than 10mg/kg of body weight per day in him. The therapeutic dose for iron deficiency anemia is 3-6 mg/kg/day. Toxic effects begin to occur at doses above 10-20 mg/kg of elemental iron. Ingestions of more than 50 mg/kg of elemental iron are associated with severe toxicity. [11]

If you ever find that your child has eaten vitamins or pills with iron, if there is time, do whatever you need to in order to get some activated charcoal AND bentonite clay in their mouths and down their throat and head for the emergency room immediately… even if they’re not showing symptoms. The charcoal will act as an absorbent sponge and help to absorb any excess toxins in the stomach. It doesn’t absorb metals so it won’t help the iron issue, but it can help with other things found in the pills. [12] Bentonite clay has been shown to absorb heavy metals although iron isn’t one of them. [13] Either way… it doesn’t hurt and it’s better than nothing in my opinion. Also, be sure to bring the bottle of pills with you because the doctor will want to see the iron amounts in the pills.

As far as treatment goes, if your child starts showing symptoms and is thought to have a toxic level of iron in their body, is as follows. [14]

  • gastric lavage – stomach pumped – only if it’s been less than 1 hour since eating the pills
  • colon cleanse via strong laxatives
  • 24 hours of IV chelation – a series of IVs containing deferoxamine mesylate (Desferal), a chemical that binds to iron in a cell and is then excreted in urine.

As you can see… none of this looks appealing, so how about just keeping those kiddie vitamins up and out of their reach… yours too.

What Are Some Dietary Sources Of Iron?

For me and my little’s, I like to start out finding good solutions to our health issues in the form of nutrition. It’s so easy to take a pill or drink some liquid when we need a boost, and I’m all for that… but only if I’m doing my part nutrition-wise and that’s not cutting it. Below are some examples of iron-containing foods that you can give your kid to make sure they’re getting enough iron in their diets. [15]

Excellent Sources

  • organ meats
  • clams/oysters
  • fortified cereal
  • oatmeal
  • soybeans/tofu
  • lentils
  • chickpeas

Good Sources

  • beef
  • shrimp
  • sardines
  • pasta
  • kidney, navy, pinto beans
  • baked potato with skin
  • cooked spinach

Fair Sources

  • pork, beef, ham, chicken, turkey, lamb
  • crab, salmon, tuna
  • eggs
  • split peas
  • dried fruit – raisins, figs, dates
  • almonds, cashews, mixed nuts

Natural Iron Supplements For Kids

The supplemented amount of iron for your child should be based on body weight. 2 mg/kg of body weight per day is what’s recommended. Do the math and see how much your little one needs. [16] Iron is best if taken with some form of Vitamin C to help with its absorption, and it’s also recommended to take it on an empty stomach since it can sometimes lead to nausea and vomiting. You also may want to limit dairy if your child has problems with low iron levels… specifically cow’s milk. It can interfere with absorption.

If it were me, I’d buy Herbal Iron from Mountain Meadow Herbs (LOVE this company – especially Gentle Birth for all natural labor!!) and figure out how much I needed to give my kid. I’d do that for a month along with diet changes and then see if it was working to raise my kid’s iron levels. If not, I’d try something else, but my guess is that this would work.

This worked for me when I was pregnant with my first except I took Herb Pharm’s Yellowdock tincture every day since it’s high in iron too. NASTAAAAYY! Not Herb Pharm because they’re a great company, but yellow dock is rough. BITTER! WHEW! I can still taste that stuff, but you know what? It worked! For every pregnancy after that, I went with a natural form of iron from a natural food store (not the kind from a pharmacy). It’s easier on my stomach and doesn’t lead to constipation which can also happen from iron. Maybe next time I’ll try MMH’s Herbal Iron!

Putting It All Together

So to sum all this up. Iron is essential for your child’s health. They need to get the required amount, but please be cautious and keep all pills and medications out of reach. If your child’s iron level is low, look at their diet first, and then move on to natural iron supplements before opting for the harsher ones.

Have you experienced low iron with your child? What did you do to help? Share your stories, questions, and comments below! I love hearing from you!