Iron Deficiency and Fussy Eating


In Australia the prevalence of iron deficiency in children under the age of 5 is about 8% [1]. Iron is the most frequent nutritional deficiency around and the earlier it is picked the better. Parents of fussy eaters often wonder if their child is getting enough of this crucial mineral and they should because iron is bloody important!

Why is iron so important?

Iron is a mineral essential to haemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency anemia occurs when your child’s body doesn’t have enough iron to produce haemoglobin. Iron is also a key nutrient for a well functioning immune system. A prolonged deficiency may impact development and impair cognitive function.

What are the signs of iron deficiency?

Children who are iron deficient will present with pallor, fatigue, shortness of breath, irritability, PICA (eating non food item like dirt or ice), reduced eating, decreased activity, poor concentration, restless leg syndrome, chronic infection and colds.
If a child displays such symptoms it is important to consult a GP who will investigate. Parents should not supplement without advice as too much iron can cause complications.

Causes for iron deficiency

The most common cause of deficiency is a lack of iron in the diet, but there are other causes a doctor can investigate, such as an inability to absorb iron (e.g celiac disease). Extreme Fussy Eaters who often do not eat a varied diet and shun meat, and toddlers who drink too much milk, (500ml x 24 hours)[2] are at risk of lacking iron.

Types of iron and absorption

There are two types of iron:

  1. haem iron which is found in meat (the darker the richer), and fish.
  2. Non-haem iron which is found is plant-food and egg, which requires plenty of vitamin C to enhance absorption. Vitamin C is found in fresh fruit and vegetables.
  3. Absorption of iron is increased by cooking foods, whilst it is decreased by tannins.

Sources of iron

  • Meat, the darker the meat is the richer (Offal, black pudding, beef, lamb, chicken, veal, pork),
  • Fish and seafood (clams, oysters, sardines, tuna, shrimps etc),
  • Green leafy vegetables (Spinach, kale, collards…),
  • Wholegrain, wholemeal cereals (wheat, rice etc)
  • Beans,
  • Soy,
  • Chickpeas,
  • Egg,
  • Sweet potato and potato with skin
  • Seeds and nuts (pumpkin seeds, cashew, almonds…),
  • Fortified breakfast cereals (weetbix, oatmeals., corn flakes, check the labels),
  • Dry fruit.

What are the recommendations ?

Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) in mg per day.

  • Infants from 7-12months: 11mg
  • Girls and boys 1-3 years: 9mg
  • Girls and boys 4-8 years: 10mg
  • Girls and boys 9-13 years: 8mg
  • Boys 14-18 years: 11mg
  • Girls 14-18 years: 15mg

Children who eat a great variety of foods, should have no problem getting the iron they need from their diet. For fussy eaters, offering fortified cereals makes a lot of sense, each meal should provide sources of iron, even when if children do not always eat them. If in doubt always talk to you doctor or dietitian.

I want to make my family fussy eater free!