Children need regular sources of foods rich in iron. The amount of iron children absorb from food is variable, but is thought to be around 15-20%. How much iron is absorbed by the gut depends on iron status, general health, age but also the availability of iron in the food itself, known as bioavailability. 6-12 months-old infants, toddlers and young children have high nutritional needs for iron, and are at risk of iron deficiency anaemia. Foods rich in iron are needed for brain development, concentration, oxygen transport in the body, stamina and building muscle. Maximise your child’s iron rich foods using the following tips:
- Avoid giving milk with a meal as the high calcium content of milk reduces iron absorption
- Do include fruits and vegetables with each meal; the Vitamin C content increases iron absorption
- Avoid giving children tea; the tannins in tea bind iron and reduce its absorption
- Foods containing haem-iron such as those in foods of animal origin like red meat and eggs are absorbed more effectively
- Foods containing non-haem-iron found in foods of plant origin like cereals, fruits, nuts, pulses and vegetables are less effectively absorbed
- Eating red meat twice a week, 3 eggs per week, regular beans, pulses, nuts, fruits, cereals and vegetables will meet the needs of most children
- Other good sources include apricots, blackcurrants, figs, prunes, cocoa, dark green leafy vegetables, lentils, edamame beans, kidney beans, cashew nuts, peanuts, tahini, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, oats, wholegrains, quinoa, fortified cereals eg. ready brek, weetabix, nutritional yeast with iron, tofu
- Vegetarian and vegan school children generally have lower iron status but do get sufficient iron from beans, pulses, nuts, fruits, cereals and vegetables – vitamin C intake is a valuable addition to enhance absorption for this group
- Toddlers can reduce the risk of iron deficiency by having water with main meals instead of milk
The calcium and vitamin D combination is one of the most important vitamin and mineral duos for teenage nutrition. All teens need a good supply of calcium as their bones increase in density long after they have stopped growing in length. Vitamin D plays its part by regulating the absorption of calcium from the gut. Functioning similarly to a hormone, vitamin D receives information about how much bone is needed and determines how much calcium to deliver to the skeleton to make bone. This happens for existing bone, making it stronger and denser with the additional calcium, and also for new bone as existing bones lengthen during pubertal growth spurts.
Dietary sources of vitamin D only contribute about 5% of overall needs; the rest being manufactured on the skin’s surface by the action of UV light from the sun. Vitamin D is then absorbed through the skin, stored in the liver, and then converted into an active form of Vitamin D by the kidney, ready for action in the gut.
Boys generally need more calcium than girls and are also more likely to have lower circulating levels of vitamin D. Calcium needs for girls are around 800mg and boys around 1000mg. Habitual lower intakes of calcium cause the intestine to up-regulate its absorption, provided there is enough vitamin D, and so calcium is only half the picture to promote strong bones. In the UK , where the sunlight is low for at least half the year, the general population is at risk of vitamin D deficiency. A supplement of 25ug/micrograms (or 1000 international units) of Vitamin D for 6 months of the year – during late autumn/winter/early-spring – helps to ensure bones continue to mineralise during this super-growth period. Teens who eat a poorly planned vegan diet may consider a calcium and vitamin D supplement.
Calcium needs can be met by 4 – 5 servings of dairy products each day. For kids who don’t eat dairy, fortified soya products, nuts and seeds are good choices. For well-rounded nutrition, a mix of different types of calcium rich foods is best.
Good Sources of Calcium
||tahini (sesame seeds)
Source “The Composition of Foods” 5th Ed; McCance & Widdowson; Royal Society of Chemistry