Southern California Integrative Wellness Center
It’s no secret: iron is essential for a healthy and functioning body, especially for growing babies and toddlers. But how can we make sure our little ones are getting enough of this important mineral, and how does adequate iron consumption fit in with a plant-based diet?
Daily Iron Requirements for Children
To begin, let’s review the recommended daily iron intake for small children:
- Infants (ages six months to one year): 11 mg
- Toddlers (ages one to three years): 7 mg
It’s not difficult to meet these requirements. But what many parents on plant-based diets want to know is if they can meet these daily amounts without resorting to animal-based sources such as red meat.
Plant-based Diets and Adequate Iron Intake
The answer is yes! Plants offer a wide variety of iron-rich foods to choose from, so it is definitely possible (and very simple) to meet the daily recommended intake of iron while avoiding animal products.
Where confusion and concern tends to arise is around the type of iron found in plant-based foods versus animal products. Meat and poultry contain what is known as heme iron, while the iron found in plant-based foods is non-heme.
Heme iron is absorbed more efficiently by the body than non-heme, which is why there is a common belief that animal foods are a better source of iron than vegetables and legumes.
However, there is an easy way to increase the absorption of iron, both heme and non-heme, by the body. Simply serve foods that are high in Vitamin C alongside your iron-rich foods—this has been shown to boost absorption by up to 67%.
Also, it’s important to note that studies show that children who follow a plant-based diet are no likelier to be iron-deficient than children who consume a standard western diet that includes animal products.
Iron-Rich Foods That Are Kid-Friendly
Here are our recommendations for iron-rich foods you can include as part of a healthy diet. As recommended by your holistic pediatrician, aim to offer your child two to three servings of these foods every day.
Legumes and beans
- Hummus on whole grain toast
- Vegetarian chili
- Oatmeal with raisins and cinnamon
- Oatmeal pancakes with fruit
- Quinoa-based breakfast porridge
- Steamed quinoa with stir-fried vegetables
- Pasta tossed with spinach and broccoli
- Kale and fruit smoothie