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Iron Facts

Why do we need iron?

Our bodies need iron to make hemoglobin, which takes oxygen through the blood to all the cells. Hemoglobin is what gives colour to red blood cells. When you don’t have enough iron, red blood cells become small and pale, a condition called anemia. They can’t carry enough oxygen to your body’s organs and muscles.

Why do kids especially need iron?

Babies and children need iron for their brains to develop normally.

When babies don’t get enough iron, they may show these signs:

  • Slow weight gain.
  • Pale skin.
  • No appetite.
  • Irritability (cranky, fussy).
  • Babies with an iron deficiency may be less physically active and may develop more slowly.
In children, iron deficiency can affect how they do in school. Not having enough iron can lead to problems concentrating, a shorter attention span, and poor academic performance. Low iron levels can make you feel tired and weak.

How much iron do they need? 

Babies are born with a reserve of iron, which comes from their mother’s blood while they are in the womb.
For the first 6 months of life, breastfed babies will get what they need from their mother’s milk. If breast-feeding is not an option, use a store-bought iron-fortified infant formula for the first 9 to 12 months.
Once babies start eating solid foods, the amount of iron they need depends on their age. 
Age Amount of iron per day 
0 to 12 months 11 mg
1 to 3 years 7 mg
4 to 8 years 10 mg
9 to 13 years 8 mg
14 to 18 years 11 mg (for boys)
15 mg (for girls)

Source: Health Canada, Dietary Reference Intakes

What foods are good sources of iron?

There are two different types of iron:

  • Heme iron is more easily absorbed by the body. It is found in meats.
  • Non-heme iron comes from plant sources like legumes, vegetables and cereals.

 Foods that are rich in iron include: 

  • Meats: Beef, lamb, pork, veal, liver, chicken, turkey.
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Grains and cereals: Iron-fortified cereals, whole grain breads, enriched bread, pasta and rice.
  • Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, dried peas and beans.
  • Vegetables: Spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green peas, beans.

To help the body absorb even more iron, combine these foods with good sources of vitamin C, such as oranges, tomatoes and red peppers.

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2528681/