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My 14 month old just had his blood test results back, and while his hemoglobin levels are in the normal range, they're right on the bottom of the range. This surprised us some, because he's a voracious meat eater; last Friday he had 5 ounces of prime rib, for example, and he regularly eats plenty of almost everything we give him. Not necessarily every day, but on balance he's a good eater, and in particular on the meat side of the spectrum. He also does a pretty good job eating green vegetables, like green beans or broccoli.

We know that we could get iron drops, but we tried those for a while on our older son and he hated the taste (for good reason, iron tastes terrible in solution) and it put him off of vitamins entirely for a long time.

Are there other things we can do to try and increase our toddler's iron intake? He eats 'normal' food (whatever we're having), and mostly has fresh fruit or cheese/yogurt for snacks. He is a good (non-picky) eater, and rarely has to be encouraged to eat more of anything.

Edit (5/27/14): Started to use the spinach smoothies, those have gone over very well - no complaints about the flavor. One thing I've noticed as I've paid attention to some of the comments/answers below is that we have a lot of dairy with our iron containing products, so that's something to pay a lot more attention to.

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Serve a small portion of orange juice with dark green leafy vegetables. The vitamin c and the acid help the iron get absorbed. (Or squeeze a bit of lemon juice over spinach). –  DanBeale May 20 at 18:25
    
Take him, from time to time, to a good hamburger place with high quality beef and give him orange juice to drink with it. –  Dariusz May 21 at 10:01

3 Answers 3

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Few things you can try are:

  1. Make sure he's getting enough vitamin C which helps with Iron absorption.
  2. Limit dairy with meals as calcium in cow's milk inhibits absorption.
  3. Make him a smoothie out of fresh spinach and some fruit. The spinach is high in iron and does well blended up with fruit.
  4. For finger food snacks, plain old Cheerios are a good source of iron
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Didn't think about the milk with meals. I know that citrus helps (and he eats a lot of fruit, including citrus fruits, often eating lemon slices at dinners out) but the milk inhibition is something to keep in mind (he does drink a lot). –  Joe May 20 at 17:16
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Spinach having a lot of iron is a misbelieve, resulting from a misplaced decimal point. –  Katja Hahn May 20 at 19:27
    
Various fruits & vegetables are helpful, but their amounts are minimal. As a child I had a deficiency in iron where I would randomly faint/pass-out. I had to take pre-natal pills (quite devastating to a young man) to ensure high enough iron. Do what you can dietary-wise, but vitamins may be necessary. –  Jeremy Miller May 21 at 3:21
    
Fortunately in our case he was still in the 'normal' range - just at the bottom, which given his consumption of large amounts of meat surprised me (hence this question) and led me to see if we can up that some. Hopefully we won't be anywhere near that level of anemia... –  Joe May 21 at 13:38
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@Veitch By the way, I was intrigued by your comment and looked into it. It turns out that the myth of spinach having iron is actually a myth itself. This paper tracks it down; the evidence claimed by the myth creator isn't verifiable, and either way, the USDA agrees with the statement that spinach contains a good amount of iron for a vegetable (2-3mg per cup cooked). –  Joe May 21 at 14:36

Iron Sources (see also link)

  • dried herbs
  • beans and pulses
  • fortified cereals
  • bran
  • sun-dried tomatoes
  • artichokes
  • prunes
  • tempeh
  • vital wheat gluten
  • whole wheat bread
  • dark turkey meat
  • chicken leg and breast
  • thuna
  • halibut
  • pork chops
  • beef and lamb

Factors that Increase Iron Absorption

  • meat proteins: increase nonheme iron absorption

  • vitamin C and A: C increases absorption and a lack of vitamin A may result in not being able to move the iron out of the storage into the body

Factors that Reduce or Inhibit Iron Absorption

  • calcium can reduce nonheme iron (that is iron from plants) absorption and inhibit absorption of iron supplements

  • tannins, oxalates, polyphenols, and phytates reduce absorption (mostly found in tea and coffee)

  • avoid peppermint tea, cocoa, vervain, lime flower, chamomile, and most other herbal teas with polyphenols as they reduce absorption of iron

  • high fiber foods (whole grains, vegetables) can inhibit iron absorption

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Children's multivitamins are an option. They are chewable and more like lollies than pills. This has the advantage of topping up a wide variety of vitamins. Our son was borderline on iron and a little deficient in vitamin D so we started giving him multivitamins.

Obviously, this should be done as a top-up to a healthy diet and lifestyle.

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