The rundown on dietary iron

It may surprise you to know that 7 to 12-month-olds need more iron than a grown man. This is because their little bodies and brains are growing at a rapid rate, and iron plays an important role in brain development.

According to the Australian Nutrition Guidelines, the recommended daily intake (RDI) for 7 to 12-month-old babies is 11mg. Which, if you have ever taken notice of iron quantities in food, is a lot.  

This high RDI takes into account that not all the iron your baby consumes is absorbed. The absorption of iron is quite complicated, with many nutrients in foods either aiding or inhibiting this process. However, there is good reason for this complex system.

Iron is a fat-soluble mineral, which means that if you have too much, the body is not able to remove the excess. So, the body is very clever at allowing more iron in, when stores are low, and less when stores are adequate, relying on other nutrients in foods to assist in getting the balance right. Which is why it’s important that you give your little one lots of variety in their diet.

There are two types of iron – heme and non-heme. Heme iron is present in meat, poultry and fish and non-heme iron is in plants. Heme iron is more easily absorbed by the body because the animal it has come from has done the hard work of processing it already. However, because of this, your little one’s body is less able to manage stores effectively. Non-heme iron is in many different plants, including whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds and dark green leafy vegetables. In the case of non-heme iron, the body is able to manage storage more effectively and the absorption of this iron is more heavily influenced by other nutrients in foods.

A few helpful tips to ensure your little one's iron levels are just right:

  • Offer iron rich foods at each meal, so your baby’s body has plenty of opportunity to get what they need. For example, seeds and nuts mixed in with an iron fortified cereal for breakfast, a sandwich using iron fortified bread for lunch, and lentils for dinner.
  • Calcium inhibits the absorption of iron, so we’d recommend avoiding high calcium foods two hours either side of a high iron food. A great way to do this, while still ensuring your baby gets the calcium they need, is to offer one high calcium source as either a snack or right at the end of the day.
  • Vitamin C aids the absorption of iron so it’s a great idea to pair iron rich foods with foods high in Vitamin C. We recommend serving fresh fruit like strawberries, kiwi fruit, mango or orange with high iron foods.

We do understand that there will be days when your baby throws all their food on the floor, but there will be other days when they eat everything they lay eyes on. While this can be stressful, it is normal behaviour. Just trust your baby and keep offering them nutritious food, packed full of iron, throughout the day. By being conscious of their iron requirements, you’ll find you can meet them, whether you offer your baby heme and/or non-heme iron sources.

If you are ever concerned about your baby’s food consumption, remember that you can always speak to a health professional. You could start with your GP and they can refer you as required.

Our Superhero Powder is packed full of ingredients rich in iron, including hemp protein power and flaxseeds. Try this today