Iron is an essential nutrient for both children and adults. It’s a mineral that allows red blood cells to transport oxygen to all your muscles and tissues, helping your kids keep moving and growing. Making sure your child’s diet has enough iron can be challenging, but it’s an important part of their growth.
Even when we are getting enough iron in our meals, it is still important to consider how our bodies absorb this mineral. Heme iron, the kind found in animal products like meat and poultry, is pretty easy for the body to absorb.
On the other hand, the non-heme iron found in plants is not always used by the body as efficiently as we’d like it to. That means you might believe your child is eating the right amount of iron, but not seeing all the benefits.
In this article, we’ll look at some foods that you can pair with other iron-rich foods to ensure the body is using as much of the iron as possible.
Vitamin C is Your Friend
The main vitamin we’ll be looking at when it comes to foods that help absorb non-heme iron is vitamin C. You may know a little about vitamin C already – it’s vital for your immune system and is a strong antioxidant.
This vitamin is found in all sorts of foods, but it’s very concentrated in citrus fruits, tomatoes, and some vegetables such as bell peppers, broccoli, and kale.
Beyond all the benefits you already know, vitamin C is also a big help when it comes to iron. Vitamin C works WITH non-heme iron. Depending on the type of iron in your diet, adding vitamin C can increase the amount you absorb by up to 67%.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at 10 foods you might want to include in your child’s diet to help with iron absorption.
A simple step you can take to improve iron absorption is to squeeze some lemon juice into your meal. This flavor is an excellent compliment to lots of dishes, and it’s packed with the vitamin C we’re looking for. Pairs well with spinach, leafy greens in general and quinoa.
2) Sweet Potatoes
These root vegetables are packed with lots of nutrients, including about 42 mg of vitamin C per cup of potato. That means that not only do they taste great, they’ll also help with the absorption of iron from other sources.
Spinach is unique because it’s high in both iron and vitamin C, making it a great way to get everything you’re looking for in one bite! A single cup of cooked spinach contains 20 mg of vitamin C and 6.5 mg of iron.
Note that when it comes to spinach, both fresh and frozen options will pack roughly the same nutrient punch. Just find an option that works well for you and dig in!
Kale also contains both iron and vitamin C. A single cup of raw kale contains just over 1 mg of iron along with a whopping 80 mg of vitamin C. Try serving this veggie in a simple salad or mixing it into a fruit smoothie for a healthy treat your kids will love.
Fresh or frozen berries can be an excellent source of vitamin C, and they are a hit with kids- especially strawberries! Make sure to check the nutrition facts for the specific berry you’re looking at, but generally speaking, these will all have plenty of the nutrients we want.
6) Bell Peppers
Peppers might not have the same citrusy bite we expect from other high vitamin C foods, but they’ve still got plenty to offer.
A single cup of chopped peppers will contain well over twice the daily recommended value of vitamin C. Pairing this with a food high in iron such as spinach or beans, will help your body absorb everything it needs.
7) Fortified Cereals
One of the most efficient ways to get enough iron in your diet is to focus on fortified cereals. Since cereal is a staple for most children in the morning, this may be an easy way to add iron to their diet!
Try including a small piece of citrus fruits such as a cutie, or half an orange when they are in season to improve the absorption of the non-heme iron.
As a great source of vitamin C, tomatoes are a versatile food that can be served raw, cooked, or as part of a sauce.
The best part here is that tomatoes go well with a lot of the iron-rich foods you’ll want to add to your diet anyway, especially those whole grains. However you like to get iron onto your plate, there’s a good chance you’ll have room on there for some tomato as well.
Try sneaking some pureed broccoli into sauces such as pesto or even a tomato sauce to add to those whole grains. As a good source of vitamin C, this will help improve the absorption of the iron found in whole grains, beans, and legumes.
Such as delicious fruit, Kiwis can be added alongside any meal or snack. Instead of a cutie with your child’s iron-fortified cereal, try adding a little sliced kiwi for your little one to enjoy!
Vegetarian and Vegan Diets
If you or your children stick to vegetarian or vegan diets, then your inclusion of foods high in vitamin C is all the more important.
A diet without animal products will naturally contain much more non-heme iron than heme iron. This will tend to result in lower absorption rates overall. Luckily these foods can help keep that rate much higher than it would otherwise be.
Add Variety to Your Menu Rotation
Whether you’re looking at your diet or your children’s, it’s critical that you keep track of the amount of iron you’re getting each day.
If you’re concerned you’re not getting the most out of the iron your children are eating, try adding these foods to your menu rotation to increase their vitamin C to improve iron absorption.