Diet and Iron Deficiency Anemia - Prevention is Better Than Cure
Iron is among the top nutrients that your child needs. It is a mineral that is found in plants and animals and all living things. Iron is essential because it forms a compound called hemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body. When your child’s diet lacks iron, their body cannot make enough hemoglobin, which causes a reduction in the supply of oxygen.
Apart from its main role, iron is also important for regulating body temperature and improving focus. If iron deficiency is not corrected, it can lead to iron deficiency anemia, which is a decrease in the number of red blood cells in the body. To make healthy hemoglobin in the bone marrow cells, your child needs iron, folic acid, vitamin C, protein and vitamin B12. Deficiency of these nutrients can lead to decreased concentration of hemoglobin.
Symptoms of iron deficiency:
Iron deficiency anemia is a very common problem in India. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) III data has revealed that about 70% of Indian children under the age of 5 years suffer from anemia.
You can watch out for these signs and symptoms of iron deficiency:
- Pale skin
- Feeling of fatigue
- Slower growth and development
- Reduced appetite
- Abnormally rapid breathing
- Behavioural changes
- Frequent infections
Those at a higher risk of iron deficiency include:
- Babies who are born prematurely - more than three weeks before their due date or have a low birth weight
- Babies who drink cow's milk or goat's milk before the age of 1 year
- Breast-fed babies who are not provided with complementary foods containing iron after 6 months of age
- Babies who are given formula milk that is not fortified with iron
- Children aged between 1 and 5 years who drink more than 710 ml of cow's milk, goat's milk or soy milk in a day
- Children suffering from certain health conditions, such as restricted diets or chronic infections
- Children who are in between the ages of 1 and 5 years and have been exposed to lead
Preventing iron deficiency anemia:
It is easy to prevent iron deficiency with a healthy, balanced diet. Incorporate these foods, which are high in iron and reduce the risk of iron deficiency anemia. Vitamin C can improve iron absorption, so ensure that you include food and drinks rich in Vitamin C. Good sources of Vitamin C include citrus fruits such as oranges, sweet lime, lemons, grapefruit, and tomato. You can also include fruit juices with added vitamin C, e.g. orange juice, lemonade. In general, babies tend to get enough iron if they are breastfed. If formula-fed infants drink formula that is fortified with iron, they also usually get enough iron.
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach, amaranth, fenugreek leaves (methi), drumstick leaves, broccoli, onion greens, beet greens, radish greens, etc.
- Legumes and pulses like beans, peas, kidney beans or rajma, and sprouts of legumes
- Chia and pumpkin seeds
- Dry fruits like apricots, prunes, dates, raisins, and nuts
- Brown rice, wheat, millets, and ragi
- Organ meats like liver
- Fishes like bangada, rawas
- Chicken and turkey
- Red meat like mutton or lamb
If in case you still feel like your child may be suffering from anemia despite dietary modifications, we recommend talking to your pediatrician. They will likely recommend oral iron supplements for your child. Do not give your child iron supplements without prescription as your pediatrician will ensure that your child takes the right kind of supplement in the correct dose.