For almost every child, attention to providing a good diet is all that is needed to prevent iron deficiency. Contrary to what Popeye may have thought, the most iron-rich food is not spinach, but red meat, liver, eggs, whole grains, and dried beans and other legumes.
Here are some suggestions for preventing your child from being iron deficient:
Breast-feed your baby for the first year or longer.
If breast-feeding is not possible, feed your baby an iron-enriched infant formula for the first year.
Enroll your child in the federal WIC (Women Infants Children) program, which provides excellent iron-rich foods — another wonderful children’s nutritional success story.
When your child is between age 1 and 2, limit cow’s milk to about 16 to 24 ounces a day — more than this amount makes your toddler less interested in eating meat and other foods that are rich in iron. It also may cause a tiny amount of blood loss in stool, which makes iron deficiency worse.
Have your baby or toddler checked for lead poisoning — children exposed to lead are often iron deficient, too.
Include iron rich foods in your child’s diet many times a week: meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dried beans and whole grains.
Provide foods that contain vitamin C (orange juice and other fruits). Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron from food.
If your family is vegetarian, or if your child absolutely will not eat meat or poultry, provide the daily amount of iron as part of a vitamin with iron preparation. Your pediatrician will suggest the best product for your child.
Encourage your child to be active in exercise, which will increase the child’s appetite for the iron-rich foods you prepare.
Dr. Carole A. Stashwick is a pediatrician and an associate professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School, where she also director of the pediatric residency program.