Life stages and other factors
In Britain, iron deficiency in infants is common. Most babies are born with sufficient iron stores to last for four to six months, but after this time they need to obtain iron from their diet.
By the age of one year your toddler should be joining in family meals. Eating well helps them to grow and develop properly and to stay healthy. Offering a varied and balanced diet should ensure they get all the nutrients they need.
Food is also a source of learning for your child. It is important to try to eat and enjoy food as a family as this will help your child to eat and try new foods. Children need the same nutrients as adults, but because toddlers can’t eat large amounts of food at one mealtime, it’s important to give them foods rich in calories and nutrients. Offer small regular meals with healthy snacks in between.
As in adults, lean red meat should form part of a healthy, balanced diet. Children aged two to five should move towards lower-fat meat products, which should be grilled, stewed or baked, rather than fried.
Younger children may have difficulty in chewing meat, in which case you can purée lean red meat with vegetables, moving on to looser purées or mince as their chewing abilities develop.
Adolescence is a time when the need for nutrients is increased and eating a healthy balanced diet is important. The growth that occurs during puberty increases the body's demand for protein and other nutrients. Studies have shown that teenagers who diet often have low energy levels and are most at risk from iron deficiency.
Pregnancy and breast feeding
Women are more likely than men to suffer from iron depletion, partly due to their menstrual cycle but, in certain cases, this can also be due to poor dietary intake of iron-rich foods.
A good dietary intake should be maintained throughout pregnancy as it is required by the mother and baby as a reserve for blood loss during the birth. A deficiency of iron at this stage may result in low birth weight and premature delivery, as well as the baby being born with low iron stores.
It is also important for women who are breastfeeding to ensure they keep their iron stores maintained in order that adequate iron can be passed to their child via their breast milk.
There are many non-meat sources of iron, but this type of iron is not as easily absorbed by the body as that derived from meat. Consequently, vegetarians are more likely to have low iron levels and, thus, an increased risk of developing anaemia when their need for iron increases, such as during pregnancy. To avoid this, it is advised to drink orange juice with meals because vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron in foods eaten at the same time. Conversely, drinks such as tea and coffee, which contain tannins, inhibit the absorption of iron and should only be drunk between meals and very weak.
People from ethnic minorities need to pay special attention to ensuring they maintain a healthy balanced diet. People from certain ethnic minorities such as those from Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani communities seem to be particularly prone to developing heart disease. The best way to protect against this is by living a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle means:
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Watching your weight
- Giving up or cutting down on smoking
- Not drinking too much alcohol
- Staying active