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  • Megan Marshall

Iron deficiency

Updated: Aug 19


Children with mild iron deficiency often feel tired and tend to be more susceptible to infections. With more severe iron deficiency (called iron deficiency anaemia) symptoms such as heart palpitations, brittle nails, thinning hair, itchy skin (pruritus) and mouth sores or ulcers can develop. Iron deficiency can also have a hugely neagtive impact on your child's cognitive development.





Iron deficiency in children can be caused by many things!! Lets run through a few possible causes.


Inadequate dietary intake

Simply put, your child isnt eating enough!


So which foods are good sources of iron? Many different foods contain iron in different amounts. Some food sources are more iron- rich than others. For example, animal-based sources such as red meat (beef, lamb and pork) are particularly rich sources of iron and are most easily absorbed, and to a lesser extent fish and poultry. Plant-based sources of iron include pulses and legumes (such as beans, peas, and lentils), dark green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, cabbage, and broccoli), tofu, nuts and seeds. Many breakfast cereals are also fortified with iron.


How much iron does your child need a day?

Infants 0-3 months 1.7mg 4-6 months 4.3mg 7-12 months 7.8mg Children 1-3 years 6.9mg 4-6 years 6.1mg 7-10 years 8.7mg Adolescents 11-18 years 14.8mg for girls and 11.3mg for boys

Poor absorption

The iron in animal-based sources is often referred to as ‘haem iron’ whilst the iron in plant-based sources is often referred to as ‘non-haem iron’. 'Non-haem iron' is poorly absorbed so whilst the iron content of spinach is great its poorly absorbed. ‘Haem iron’ can increase the absorption of ‘non- haem iron’. Therefore, to improve iron status it can be beneficial to eat, for example, red meat (beef, lamb or pork) alongside green leafy vegetables. Having a bit of Vitamin C e.g a small glass of orange juice with the meal can also increase iron absorption.

Certain foods will inhibit the absorption of iron. The tannins found in teas and coffee will inhibit the absorption of iron. Too much milk is another common culprit!


If your little one drinks tea rather offer rooibos, keep it small and keep it away from mealtimes. Milk should be limited to 500ml/day.


Food Allergy

Food allergies are associated with iron deficiency anaemia. Sometimes iron deficinecy can be the only symptom of a food allergy that your child has.


If iron deficeny doesnt respond to increased intake and strategies to promote absorption then a food allergy should be considered. Take note that a negative allergy test doesn't mean that they don't have a food allergy, it only means that they dont have an IgE mediated food allergy!


Other medical causes

There are other medical conditions like kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease and coeliac disease amongst others that can result in iron deficeiny. Persistent iron deficiency should receive a full medical workup.

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Durban, KZN, South Africa

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