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Top 10 Iron-rich foods for kids!

24 January 2022

If you think about it, it sounds kind of funny that our bodies need Iron, a metal, to carry out its vital functions. However, to understand its importance better, simply think of iron as the essential material that produces hemoglobin, and think of hemoglobin as cabs that drive around oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from different parts of our bodies, which makes it the primary mineral for our growth and development.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not as difficult to maintain healthy iron levels in our blood as compared to other micronutrients, yet so many people across the globe struggle with conditions arising from iron deficiency. Iron deficiency is a global health issue with over 2 billion people suffering from anemia, as per WHO estimates, out of which 50% are due to iron deficiency. 

It is now established that even if one is not anaemic, mild and moderate iron deficiency can also lead to weakness and tiredness, eventually resulting to adverse functional consequences and cognitive development concerns.

Overall, the benefits of iron in the human body are multifaceted, from general energy and concentration levels, to building a healthy brain and immune system.

Iron Deficiency Anaemia can arise at any age for both the sexes, yet is found that adolescent girls are much more prone to it than others, and research shows that prevalence peaks between the ages of 12 and 15 years of age when the requirements are the highest. In this age group, it is found that more than 50% girls worldwide are anaemic.

Now, where does this information leave us or what can we really do about it! First is to keep an eye open for symptoms of iron deficiency viz. fatigue, pale skin and nails, complaints of headache and dizziness is to identify foods that are rich in iron and ensure that these foods form a major part of our children’s’ daily diets enabling adequate levels of iron in their growing bodies.

Well before that, we need to address one more thing which is the bio-availability of iron. It is found that the body absorbs two to three times more iron from animal sources than from plants. But even though our bodies absorb less iron from plant based sources of food, diversity is crucial and simply consuming iron along with vitamin C enhances its absorption in our body.

Here’s a list of top 10 iron-rich foods to focus on –

  1. Liver & Organ meats – thousands of years ago, as hunters and gatherers, and even until the last century human beings didn’t let any part of the animal go to waste, which made organ meats an essential part of our diets. Commercial production of meat and the ‘on-the-go’ lifestyle has changed this, only for the worse because organ meats like liver, kidney, brain and heart are extremely nutritious and all of them very rich in iron.
  2. Oysters & Clams – all kinds of shellfish are high in iron, however, oysters, clams and mussels are exceptionally rich in iron. 
  3. Red Meat – it is probably the most consumed iron rich food on the planet, which is rich in heme iron that is easily absorbed, must better than iron supplements, studies suggest.
  4. Dark Leafy Greens especially amaranth (cholai), radish leaves, beet greens, fenugreek leaves (methi), drumstick leaves (moringa), colocaasia leaves, spinach and mustard leaves are particularly rich sources of iron that are plant based.
  5. Pumpkin seeds – these tiny seeds have come to be recognised as a ‘superfood’ in recent times, including being a great source of our daily iron needs.
  6. Beans & Legumes – this humble food group is the most nutrient dense source of vital life on the planet, without having any negative health effects on our body that can sometimes come with commercial sources of animal-based foods. Horse gram, soybean, moth beans, whole brown lentils, whole Bengal gram, rajmah, black gram etc are cheap, healthy, sustainable and delicious sources of iron with many other macro and micro nutrients. I have my own new phrase – ‘a bowl of different daal a day, keeps the doctor away’!
  7. A Variety of Cereals – sadly, the variety of cereals in our pantry, has drastically declined in the last few decades. And, by cereals I don’t mean a box of packaged breakfast food, I mean whole grains! Cereals like Bajra, Ragi, Jowar, Maize, Brown and Red Rice, Whole Wheat kernels have disappeared from our plates, which used to be the daily essentials in our grandparent’s diets. These are all high in iron. Let’s reintroduce a wider variety of whole grains back into our kitchens and into our kid’s meals.
  8. Egg Yolk – the fad of eating only egg whites and discarding the yolks is personally very horrifying to me as a nutritionist. The whole egg in itself is a completely balanced food which stores all the essential minerals and vitamins in its yolk. Eat that egg yolk which is a rich source of iron as well.
  9. Condiments like Curry leaves, Parsley, Mint & Coriander – are not just for flavour or a garnish, they are extremely high in iron as well. There’s probably a reason why no  Indian dish is complete without one of these fragrant leaves.
  10. Dark Chocolate – a good quality, low sugar chocolate or cocoa powder is something that the kids will happily eat everyday and even a small serving of it packs in good enough quantities of iron in addition to copper and magnesium.

Remember variety is key for holistic nutrition, whether it be beans, pulses, grains or fruits and vegetables. Another crucial aspect is to not negate the importance of condiments such as curry leaves, mint and coriander that have been an integral part of our cuisine for centuries. A little always goes a long way.

Karnica Singh Nandal
Integrative Nutrition Health Coach & Yoga Instructor
Institute for Integrative Nutrition, NY
The Yoga Institute, 500hr TTC, Mumbai
Your cliché Engineer with an MBA degree, a corporate professional turned wellness enthusiast – I empower people to take responsibility for their own health and achievement of their personal wellness goals by educating, motivating, inspiring, and guiding towards long lasting lifestyle changes. 


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