Why Your Baby Needs Iron-Rich Foods
Expert nutritionist Larissa explains why iron is so important for your growing baby, and how to choose iron-rich foods
4 min read
Iron is one of the most important nutrients needed in our body and it’s also particularly important for your rapidly growing baby. Iron is crucial for brain development, cognitive development, a healthy immune system and to transport oxygen around the body.
A lack of iron is the most common nutritional deficiency world wide and a deficiency in infants can be caused by a lack of dietary iron as well as a delayed introduction of iron rich foods.
Your baby will start to need iron at around 6 months
Babies are born with a wonderful supply of iron to sustain them through the first 6 months of life (how amazing is the human body!). However, at this point their stores take a drastic decline. This is one of the reasons why it’s recommended that solids are introduced early at around the 6 months old stage. While the iron in breast milk is absorbed effectively, the levels are well below what is actually needed for this age. You may notice that formula has iron added to it but this is difficult for babies to absorb.
Babies require a very high amount of iron daily due to their rapid rate of growth and development. 6-12 month olds require a whopping 10-11mg of iron a day compared to a child aged 1-3 years, which requires 9mg a day.
The difference between the 2 types of iron
There are two types of iron in food – haem and non-haem iron. Haem iron is found in red meat and is more readily absorped than non-haem iron which is found in non-animal sources such as grains, beans and green vegetables. The absorption of both types can be increased by the presence of vitamin C, thus eating vegetables and fruit with these iron rich foods can enhance the absorption.
Don’t be scared to introduce meat to your baby
Once vegetables are established it’s important to begin introducing iron rich foods. We understand many are scared to introduce meat due to the fear of choking or not being able to digest it.
Begin by serving it in the right texture, such as purees with vegetables, and in small amounts. Then, once swallowing and chewing develops, a range of finely chopped meats can be introduced.
Foods Containing Iron
|Haem iron||Iron (mg)|
|1 grilled beef fillet steak (173g)||5.8|
|½ cup green mussels, marinated||7.5|
|2 grilled lamb steaks (116g)||4.0|
|1 fried lamb liver||4.0|
|90g can salmon||2.1|
|1 grilled chicken breast||2.0|
|1 grilled pork chop (74g)||1.2|
|1 baked tarakihi fillet||0.8|
|Non-haem iron||Iron (mg)|
|1 cup porridge||1.3|
|1/2 cup cooked kidney beans||2.0|
|½ cup cooked lentils||1.2|
|½ cup cooked chickpeas||1.6|
|1 cup boiled broccoli||0.9|
|½ cup baked beans||1.6|
|1 cup cooked spinach||2.5|
|1 boiled egg||0.9|
Larissa’s advice originally appears here on the Future Foody site, where you can view her references.