The quick answer to this question is no; milk does not contain iron. Milk is rich in calcium, which is essential for your little ones!
However, the same calcium that is important for developing strong bones also makes it more difficult for iron to be absorbed by the body.
If your child is drinking a lot of milk during the day, it’s best to have is as part of their snack rather than with a meal higher in iron.
What is Iron and Why is It Important?
Iron is a mineral found in a variety of foods. Red blood cells use iron to carry oxygen through the blood and to your various muscles and organs. Without iron, your body would be starving for oxygen, which is why one typical symptom of anemia is fatigue.
Types and Sources of Iron
There are two main types of iron that dietitians look at – heme and non-heme iron. In general, heme iron is high in animal-based foods such as meat, fish, and eggs.
Other foods, like legumes, beans, and leafy green vegetables, contain non-heme iron. The body can still use this type, but it is taken up at a much slower rate.
In other words, your body usually can’t make full use of all the non-heme iron you eat.
Many of the best sources of iron are animal products: beef, chicken, and fish are all among the best foods you can eat to keep iron levels high.
However, it is wrong to assume that every animal product follows this pattern. It is tempting to guess that milk is a good source of iron because it comes from cows. As you’ll see, milk can prevent iron absorption.
Where Does Milk Fit?
Many parents these days choose to avoid dairy for a variety of reasons including food allergies, lactose intolerance, or a personal choice.
We should note, though, that milk does have several health benefits. It contains a variety of vitamins and minerals.
Most milk sold in stores today is fortified with vitamin D, making it an excellent source of a vitamin not readily available in many other foods.
Plus, as we all know, milk is an excellent source of calcium, which helps build strong bones.
What About Soy and Almond Milk?
It is important to note that soy and almond-based beverages are now fortified with calcium, which is the main culprit for preventing iron absorption.
So for those children that drink soy or almond milk, try to avoid eating foods high in iron at the same meal.
Anemia is an important term to understand when we’re talking about iron. It’s the name of a serious condition brought on by a lack of iron in the diet.
The main symptoms of anemia include weakness, fatigue, cold skin, and a rapid heartbeat. In some cases, sufferers will experience brittle fingernails or shortness of breath.
While this condition is serious, the good news is that many cases can be cured simply by upping the amount of iron in the person’s diet.
It’s important to keep track of how often your child develops anemia, especially if this happens more than once. You may need a little extra guidance from your pediatrician or registered dietitian.
Milk’s Affect on Iron
Don’t go thinking, though, that just because milk doesn’t contain iron that it can’t affect your iron levels. Our bodies are not simple factories that work on one task at a time.
Everything you digest is going through dozens of reactions all at once, and it’s important to know how they might interact with one another.
In this case, it turns out that the same way your body transports calcium into the bloodstream is the same one used by iron.
That means that if one consumes both calcium and iron at the same time, they both compete for resources and to be absorbed into your blood.
The result is that calcium always wins and iron won’t be used by the body.
This means that drinking milk or eating foods high in calcium along with iron-rich foods may contribute to a lower-than-average rate of iron absorption.
So, if your child drinks a lot of milk throughout the day and with every meal, try to start slowly reducing this amount.
Daily Dairy Recommendations
- 1 to 8 years old: 2 Cups
- 9 to 18 years old: 3 cups
If your child is drinking amounts of milk higher than what is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, it may put them at risk for developing iron deficiency anemia.
The Next Steps
It might seem like this is a big problem that you’ll need to manage in your child’s diet. However, the truth is that with a few easy practices, your child can enjoy their milk or dairy-free/calcium fortified beverage and still keep their iron levels high.
- Try to help your child not drink an excessive amount of milk (higher than the recommendation). It’s already a bad idea to be drinking too much milk, as this may fill up their little tummies and make them not hungry for solid foods.
- Try to incorporate foods that are rich in iron at meal times and foods that help improve iron’s use by the body. Generally speaking, vitamin C is one of the best foods to help improve how much iron the body absorbs. So when iron is on the menu, try to reach for a small serving of orange juice or citrus instead of milk.
Help Reduce the Risk of Anemia in Your Child
With these simple steps, you can help reduce the change that your child has at developing anemia. You should still be aware of some common signs of anemia, though, and talk to your doctor if any of them come up.
Your doctor may tell you to add more iron-rich foods to their diet or take an iron supplement, and in most cases, that simple change will get them back on track.