Unlike the thing that stands in the laundry room next to a huge stack of washing, the iron in your blood is your friend! Iron carries oxygen around the body to the brain and other organs. Mums supply their babies with a good store of iron when pregnant, but this will start to run low at around six months old. It is important to give your baby iron-containing foods from this age so their body and brain can get on with growing into a walking, talking, little person. Your baby will need about 8mg of iron each day from when they are seven months up to a year old.
Types of Iron
There are two types of iron that come from food. Both do the same job but the way they find their way into the blood is slightly different:
The first is called haem iron and this comes from animal sources like meat and fish and eggs. This type of iron gets separated from food and is absorbed directly so can be put straight to work;
Non-haem iron comes from non-animal sources such as fruit, vegetables, legumes and pulses. This type of iron needs some odds and ends doing to it before it can be put to good use, which means it a little less efficient than it’s cousin.
The best vegetable sources of iron are beans and pulses like lentils (6mg per 50g) and the best fruits, are dried ones such as dried apricots (3mg per 50g). Dark-green leafy vegetables are all generally pretty good too like spinach as well as kale and broccoli. Cooked spinach has just under 1mg for every 50g.
Maximize the Benefits
Another thing to know about veggies is that they tend to have a lot less iron than animal sources but never fear, there are one or two tricks to keep up your sleeve to get maximum benefit.
Some foods interfere with the absorption of iron. Phytates are found in whole grains and their products such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, nuts and seeds. Now there’s nothing wrong with these healthy and tasty tidbits and they are a great addition to your little one’s dinner plate, but to make sure she’s getting enough iron, give them at different times to iron-foods most of the time.
Calcium containing foods such as milk and cheese are also a bit pesky when it comes to iron absorption. So again, if you are worried your child might not be getting enough iron, give these foods at different mealtimes. Tea is another one so it is best to avoid giving this as a drink.
You can help baby absorb non-haem iron by giving them foods that contain vitamin C alongside. Bell peppers, tomatoes, citrus fruit (or orange juice diluted 1:10 with water) are all perfect for this job.
The Composition of Foods; McCance & Widdowson
Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism 5th Ed; Wadsworth
British Nutrition Foundation: feeding your baby