Monday, February 17, 2014

The Importance of Iron for Children's Nutrition

Why is iron so important? A major function of iron is the creation of both the hemoglobin protein, responsible for carrying oxygen to the body, and the myoglobin protein, responsible for storing oxygen in the muscles. When infants, children and teenagers grow and mature, they need iron in order for the process to occur properly. Iron is a component of many enzymes in the body and is also key in the development of the brain, vital in the first 2 years of life.
Iron deficiency can lead to Anemia a disease that can have lethal consequences. Monitoring the amount of iron in children's bodies is therefore extremely important.

How Much Iron do Children Need? The US Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies has defined the daily recommended Iron intake for children according to age: 
  • At the ages of 1-3: 7mg/day 
  • At the ages of 4-8: 10mg/day 
  • At the ages of 9-13: 8mg/day 
  • Teenagers: 11mg/day for boys and 15mg/day for girl 
These amounts may need adjustment, depending on circumstances. For example, teenagers who go on certain diets or take part in excessive sports activity may be losing large amounts of iron, and may need more than the amounts listed above.
What are Good Nutritional Sources of Iron?
You may have noticed that the figures above do not include children below the age of 12 months. This is because children who are breastfed normally get all the iron they need from breast milk. Children who are not breast-fed, however, should get formula that contains the amount of iron they need – consulting a doctor on the matter is highly recommended.When children begin to eat solid food, it is important to differentiate between iron found in meat and fish – heme iron - and iron found mostly in other sources of food as vegetables – non-heme iron. The body's absorption of the heme-iron found in meat and fish is higher, and so it is considered a better source of iron that the non-heme iron found in plants and vegetables. However, the absorption of iron can be increased by the consumption of vitamin C from sources such as oranges and tomatoes. A cautionary note about cow milk: it is very low on iron, decreases the absorption of iron and tends to be filling, so children may consume less iron-rich products after consuming milk. This does not mean that children should stop drinking cow milk (which has its own important nutritional roles), but rather that their consumption of milk should be carefully monitored.

As noted above, teenagers who go on a diets or practice intensive sports are at risk of losing more iron than they consume. Both activities should be accompanied by consulting a professional dietitian and regular visits to the doctor to make sure that there is no risk of iron deficiency.

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