Things every mother should know about dietary iron absorption in babies
Till 6 months of age, your baby will be solely dependent on your breast milk for his or her nutrition. However, after that, once you start introducing solid foods, you must make sure that he or she is getting all the macronutrients and micronutrients. Deficiency of essential nutrients can cause multiple health problems and affect the steady growth of your child. For instance, iron deficiency is quite common among Indian children. And deficiency of iron can even lead to a condition called anaemia.
Your body needs iron to make haemoglobin, which is a very important component of red blood cells. So, you need to take steps to ensure proper iron absorption in the body of your baby.
What you need to know about iron absorption
The dietary iron absorption is influenced by several food components. As a matter of fact, your child’s body does not use all the iron present in his diet. If you are wondering why, here are a few reasons:
- There are two forms of iron – heme or non-heme. So, while heme iron can be obtained from animal sources like fish, egg, meat, and poultry, non-heme iron can be obtained from plant-based sources like vegetables, grains, fruits and nuts. Now, your child’s body can absorb heme iron more readily. However, in India, approximately 90-95% of the daily iron intake is non-heme in nature. Therefore, the amount of iron your kid gets from vegetarian food sources is quite low.
- There are certain food components that can either enhance iron absorption in the body or prevent it. For example, foods rich in vitamin C can enhance the iron absorption in your child’s body, while calcium-rich foods like milk and milk products can reduce the absorption.
- Sometimes, prolonged infections might also lead to poor or low iron absorption in the body and decrease its level in the blood.
So, you might be thinking, how you can protect your baby against iron deficiency. Here are 5 ways that will actually enhance the iron absorption mechanism in your baby’s body:
- You should try giving your baby food items that contain heme iron like green leafy vegetables (spinach, cabbage, amaranth, drumstick leaves), meat, poultry, seafood, groundnuts, jaggery, fruits, black gram, etc.
- Include food items in your baby’s diet that improve iron absorption in the body. These can be fruits and vegetables that are a good source of vitamin C and fermented and germinated food products as well.
- Try limiting food items in your baby’s diet that prevent iron absorption in the body. For instance, consuming foods like yoghurt, almonds, milk, and tofu with iron-rich foods can reduce the absorption of iron.
- Remember, any food should always be cooked in the right amount of water, so that the water gets fully absorbed. By cooking food in excess water, especially for babies, you might end up discarding the excess water and allow the loss of nutrients. For instance, when you cook rice and drain the excess water, you lose out on vitamin B. So, when you cook food items that are rich in components that improve iron absorption (vitamin C, B or folic acid), try cooking in less amount of water. If any excess water remains, just use it while cooking any soup or stew and avoid the wastage of vitamins.
- Get your baby treated for any sort of infection he or she might be suffering from. Infections can reduce his or her capacity to absorb iron from foods properly.
Hence, keeping the above tips in mind can help you incorporate sufficient iron in your child's diet, whether he is a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian. Following the right cooking techniques and getting your child treated for any infection are recommended as well. You can also consult a doctor or dietician in case you feel your little one needs a supplement.