Iron in a baby’s diet is a critical nutrient for the normal functioning of the red blood cells and the oxygen-carrying pigment haemoglobin. It plays a keyrole in neurodevelopment and cognition.

A growing baby’s diet must have enough Iron. Iron deficiency anaemia contributes to a myriad of poor health outcomes. Iron Deficiency of iron during the growing years can lead to impaired cognitive development and the damage is often irreversible even with iron supplementation. Hence, it is crucial to prevent iron deficiency in infants and toddlers.

Dietary Sources of Iron for Children

A child’s diet is vastly different from an adult diet, especially in the first few years of life. There’re various sources that can supply Iron in a baby’s diet:

Breast Milk

Breast milk is best for babies and all babies under aged 6 months must be exclusively breastfed. Although the iron content of breast milk is low (0.4mg/L), it has a high bioavailability and is thus a good source of iron in infants. However, breast milk alone cannot meet the nutritional demands of children beyond age 6 months, especially iron.

Infant Formula

Typically a breast milk substitute. Infant formulas are often supplemented with iron. Children who are not exclusively breastfed can be given infant formula in the first year of life.

Infant Cereals

Infant cereals are perhaps the best way to incorporate iron in the child’s diet. Fruits and vegetables or other finger foods are not rich in iron, whereas infant cereals are specially fortified with iron to increase their nutritional value.

Meat

Meat purees are an excellent source of heme-iron. The bioavailability and absorption of heme iron from meat is several times higher than the absorption of non-heme iron present in infant cereals. However, very few babies are being fed meat during early childhood and thus, they still depend on other sources such as iron-fortified cereals to meet their nutritional requirements.


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Iron Intakes of Babies Consuming Iron Fortified Cereals

A 2017 study published in Nutrients journal studied the iron intakes of infants and toddlers consuming iron fortified cereals and other complementary foods:

  • Infant cereals were the top source of dietary iron among infants aged 6-12 months.
  • Infants and toddlers who consume infant cereals have higher iron intakes as compared to infants who do not consume cereals.
  • 74.6% infants aged 6-9 months consumed infant cereals, but the percentages of infants consuming cereals declined with advancing age. Only 51.5% infants aged 9-12 months and 14.8% infants aged 12-18 months consumed infant cereals.
  • Infant cereal was also the top food source of nine other vitamins and minerals for infants 6–12 months of age, including zinc, vitamin B12, thiamine, and folic acid.
  • A very small number of infants who consumed cereals had dietary intakes of iron less than the estimated average requirement.

Thus, it is evident that iron fortified cereals are the complementary foods of choice for infants and toddlers to meet their nutritional needs, especially in terms of iron requirements.

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