Iron is a vital nutrient that is essential for growth and development during the early childhood. As a matter of fact, a diet that is deficient in iron can cause many health problems including growth and developmental delays and behavioral issues in a child. This is why iron rich foods for babies are so important.
Thankfully, many foods can provide this vital nutrient in the diet. In this article, we will be taking a look at ten such iron rich foods for babies. The foods are listed in decreasing order of their iron content and their ability to provide dietary iron. So, let’s begin.
The 12 Best Iron Rich Foods for Babies
Here is our list of the 12 best iron rich foods for babies, in no particular order.
1. Red Meat: iron rich foods for babies
Red meat is one of the best iron rich foods for babies. The iron present in red meat is different from that found in plant sources in that, it is attached to proteins called heme proteins.
As a result, the iron in red meat is often called heme iron. The body absorbs heme iron at a rate of 7 to 35 percent, which is significantly higher compared to non-heme iron that is absorbed in 2 to 20 percent.
You can feed your baby pureed meat such as beef, chicken, and pork from the age of 4 to 6 months. The pureed meats contain high amounts of heme iron that are easy to absorb and don’t cause any gastric trouble as well.
As for the amount, it depends on the age of your baby. You can start with one teaspoonful of pureed meat and increase the amount gradually over time.
Babies can have a difficult time eating pureed meat in the beginning.
If your child does not want to eat the meat at first, try feeding it after a gap of a few days. If you are introducing pureed meats for the first time, try to introduce various meats one at a time. That way, you will have a better chance of success.
Another great option for iron rich foods for babies is quinoa. Quinoa contains as much as 8 mg of iron per half-cup. Although the iron in quinoa is non-heme iron that is less readily absorbed, it is one of the richest sources of non-heme iron.
You can start feeding quinoa to your baby as early as six to eight months. However, babies do tolerate quinoa before that age as well.
Quinoa is a great alternative to meat for vegetarian families. Another advantage of quinoa is the fact that it is a versatile ingredient. You can make a wide variety of recipes using this grain such as cereal, pilaf, and even burgers.
You can find some great baby food recipes using quinoa here.
3. Sweet potatoes
One of the tastiest foods on this list, sweet potatoes are quite rich in non-heme iron as well. They contain 2.5 mg of iron per half cup.
Apart from the iron, sweet potatoes are also rich in vitamin A and C. Including them in the diet of your baby can boost the iron intake.
The fact that they are sweet and you can make some recipes out of them is an added advantage. You can start giving cooked, pureed sweet potatoes to your baby as early as four to six months of age.
Once your child is old enough to eat finger foods (around ten months), you can try feeding cooked and cut up sweet potatoes, as well as occasional sweet potato fries!
Beetroot is a tasty vegetable that is one of the best iron rich foods for babies. It contains about 1.1 mg of iron per cup. It can be easily cooked and pureed to feed your baby. You can start giving beetroot puree to your baby from the age of six to eight months.
Just make sure that you take off the peel from the vegetable before you puree it. The skin of beets is not easily digestible and can cause some problems.
It is best to puree the root vegetable and strain it through a coarse strainer to make sure that all the pieces of peel are removed.
5. Green leafy veggies
Dark greens are ideal for your baby. Not only are they one of the best iron rich foods for babies, but they also contain many other micro-nutrients. Veggies like spinach, kale, and collard greens are rich in iron.
They are easy to feed to a baby as well. You can cook them and make a puree to feed babies as early as four to six months of age.
If you want to get the full advantage of these veggies, try and add some vitamin C containing vegetables into the mix. Tomatoes or lemon juice are ideal. The vitamin C helps in the proper absorption of the iron from these leafy greens.
Beans and lentil legumes are also a great source of iron and other nutrients. You can introduce beans and lentils in your baby’s diet as early as six to eight months.
The non-heme iron present in these foods needs Vitamin C to be absorbed properly. Hence adding a little lemon juice or tomatoes in cooked lentils and beans is an excellent idea.
That said, as these foods are rich in protein, they can be a bit challenging to digest. A young and sensitive tummy may not be able to handle a lot of beans, and hence, you should take it slow. Start with a few teaspoons and increase the amount gradually.
7. Green peas
Green peas are also one of the best iron rich foods for babies that contain non-heme iron. You can start feeding pureed peas as early as four months of age.
Peas are easy to digest and provide some nutrients apart from iron. They contain 2.1 mg of iron per cup, which is quite high for a vegetable.
Again, as peas are high in protein content, they can be a tad difficult to digest completely. Starting slow and building up the amount is the key. Also, make sure that you are avoiding frozen peas.
Oats are easy to digest, quick to make, and delicious. They also contain high iron content that makes them one of the best iron rich foods for babies. You can make a nice oatmeal cereal or porridge for your baby with this versatile food.
Oats are less constipating than rice, and hence oatmeal cereal is better than a rice based cereal for babies that have recently started to eat solid food. Also, babies do prefer the taste of oatmeal over that of rice cereal.
When choosing eggs as an option for the best iron rich foods for babies, stick to the egg yolks. These are the best source of iron from the egg.
Scrambled eggs are an excellent recipe to go with, as kids are generally a huge fan of them. You can even add milk or cheese to the eggs to help babies get their dairy intake for the day.
You can also serve them the eggs with a glass of orange juice, which will help their body absorb iron.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan family, you may struggle to find iron rich foods for babies that can give them the nutrients they need. Tofu is an excellent choice for this.
Tofu has 6 mg per a 4-ounce serving, so it is a fantastic vegetarian option for iron. It is an easy finger food when chopped up, and children tend to enjoy the texture.
Although many young children tend to stay away from seafood, it is an excellent source of iron. It can be a particularly good choice if you are a pescatarian family.
Tuna, shrimp, and clams are all excellent seafood choices as iron rich food for babies. You can even make a pasta and incorporate seafood into it, especially if your child is nervous about trying seafood.
12. Dried fruits
Finally, our last option of iron rich foods for babies is dried fruit. These include raisins, dates, prunes, and apricots. Generally, they will contain about 1.5 to 3 mg per serving.
For some options for your young one, you can add them to your kid’s cereal, bake them in muffins, or pack them in their backpack for a small snack.
Which Iron Rich Foods for Babies Should You Choose?
When it comes to choosing the best iron rich food for babies, it all boils down to personal preference. If you don’t mind eating meat, the best source of iron for your baby is undeniably the beef liver.
Not only does it contain a lot of iron, but it also contains the readily-absorbable heme iron. Add that to the fact that you can quickly make a puree out of it, and that makes it a clear choice for an iron rich food.
However, if you are a vegetarian, you still have a lot of options to choose iron-rich foods for babies. Among all the veggies listed above, quinoa and sweet potatoes are the best. Both of these foods are easy to make, versatile and most importantly, rich in iron.
The fact that they are easy to digest for a baby only makes them more attractive.
Choosing Iron Rich Foods for Babies
Although all these veggies, legumes, and beans contain a lot of iron, it is important to note that they do contain non-heme iron. Iron in this form is absorbed slower compared to heme iron as we noted earlier. However, you can accelerate the absorption by adding some vitamin C-containing ingredients such as lemon juice or tomatoes to remedy this.
The point is that iron is a vital nutrient that is essential for the proper development of your baby. Make sure that the baby’s diet contains enough iron by including these foods as much as you can.
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