The Importance Of Iron For Your Body

Iron plays several critical roles in the human body and is found in muscle tissue and in blood. By far the largest proportion of iron is found in hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells. Despite our knowledge of this important micro-mineral, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in Australia. In fact, it is one of the most serious nutritional concerns worldwide, both in developed and developing nations. Left unchecked, iron deficiency can delay or impair infant, child and adolescent mental and physical development, reduce immune status and increase illness relating to infections.
Babies, children and teenagers undergo rapid growth spurts, which increase their iron needs. Therefore children are particularly vulnerable to iron deficiencies. Unbalanced diets do not provide sufficient iron to meet the needs of their growing bodies. One of the most common causes of iron deficiencies in younger children is drinking too much milk which contains only trace amounts of iron. Little bellies become full on milk leaving little room for other foods!
So how do we ensure our children are getting enough iron? Red meat is an important source, as are other meats including lamb, pork, chicken and fish. A 100 gram serve of meat provides approximately one milligram to three milligrams of iron, kids need around 10 milligrams of iron per day. Offal meats such as beef liver provide a whopping 6.5 milligrams per 100 gram serve, but let’s face it…many adults do not find offal appetising let alone the littlies! Did you know that some plant foods are also good sources of iron? Just half a cup of baked beans has 2 milligrams; other plant sources include nuts, leafy greens, any beans, tofu, apricots, dates and fig. Many breakfast cereals and breads are also fortified with iron. The trick with plant foods is to include a source of vitamin C in the meal. Iron is tightly bound within the plant cells, but adding vitamin C helps the body to break it free to be absorbed. Serving wedges of tomato with baked beans, or including fresh fruit for dessert or with breakfast maximises the amount of iron absorbed.
Talk to your Doctor if you are concerned about your child’s iron levels. Accredited Practicing Dietitian’s can work with you to develop a balanced diet to help boost their intake. Please contact us at or with any comments.
Andrea Cruickshank APD AN

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