Q: My 16-month-old is a finicky eater at best, and until recently, I’d just give her a bottle of milk when she didn’t eat what was offered. I learned that because cow’s milk has no iron, replacing all those meals with milk was putting her at risk for anemia. I offer her beef and chicken regularly, but she rarely eats. What else can I offer this little fruitarian?
A: Your daughter is at risk for anemia for two reasons. First, all children are at increased risk of anemia simply because they are growing and need more iron to grow. Babies are born with stores of iron that are depleted by the time they are one. Second, cow’s milk is not only a poor source of iron, but it also can inhibit the absorption of iron that she is eating.
While meat is a good source of iron, whole grains, nuts, beans, spinach, eggs, and raisins aIl contain iron. Many breakfast cereals and other grains are fortified with iron. Unfortunately, our bodies don’t absorb the iron in plant foods as well, but you can increase that absorption with some planning.
-Avoid consuming dairy or other calcium-rich foods at the same time as iron-rich foods. Calcium and iron compete to be absorbed in the body. Try giving her milk at a different meal or between meals.
-Make sure you give vitamin C rich foods with iron-rich plant foods. Oranges, strawberries, and bell peppers are just a few ideas. Vitamin C helps to increase the absorption of the iron in the plant foods.
-Even little bits of meat help! Not only do our bodies absorb the iron in meat more easily than the iron in plant foods, but for reasons which we don’t completely understand, eating meat actually makes it easier for our bodies to absorb the plant iron, too.
-If possible, you can try cooking in a cast iron pan. Food absorbs a little iron from the pan when you cook in cast iron cookware, especially acidic foods like tomatoes and vinegar. It isn’t huge amounts, but every little bit can help.
I hope this helps. Thanks for the question.
Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!