Iron is the essential substance that builds hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the main oxygen-rich (metalloprotein) molecule that is contained in the red blood cells (RBC). When the red blood cells are circulated all through the body, oxygen reaches all the cells.
This oxygen is employed in
- All cell functions of the body
- Helping neural development
- Functioning of the enzyme
If there is less iron, there is less hemoglobin and because of this the oxygen reaching the cells also decreases. Children need sufficient oxygen in their cells and tissues that need to develop, grow and keep them physically and mentally healthy and fit. That is why iron is a very important nutrient for children.
Iron is present in two forms in our bodies. They are the functional iron and iron that is stored. When the latter is depleted a person is said to be iron deficient, but when the deficiency spreads to the hemoglobin and the functional iron is inadequate for normal body functions then the person is termed as anemic.
What happens when children have iron deficiency
When children do not intake sufficient iron, less oxygen is carried to the cells over the body. Several problems arise due to this
- Loss of appetite
- Paleness of skin
- Lack of concentration in school
- Unexplained tiredness and mood swings
- Brittle nails and dull skin and hair
- Soreness of the mouth/tongue
How much Iron?
The amount of iron supplements needed for children varies according to their age. Breastfed infants get sufficient iron (6 milligrams) until they are about six months old. After this, a child has to be fed iron-fortified cereal besides being breastfed. Until the child is a year old he will need about 11 milligrams.
The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Database for Standard Reference lists out the iron needs for children as
Age of child in years
|1 to 3||4 to 8||9 to 13||14 to 18|
|Boys||7 mg||10 mg||8 mg||11mg|
|Girls||7 mg||10 mg||8 mg|
In adolescence, children need more iron (11mg for boys and 15mg for girls). Girls need more as they begin menstruating at this stage. Also, children who are actively involved in sports need extra iron to replace the iron-depleted by perspiration.
Sources of Iron
Iron-rich foods for children include fishes like salmon and tuna, soybean, lean beef and lean chicken, pork, beef liver, eggs, instant oatmeal, fortified cereal (for breakfast), pasta, nuts, dried fruits, Indian gooseberry, dry leafy vegetables, cooked beans, and edible seeds of sesame, pumpkin, and squash. However, it is important to know that iron in animal sources is absorbed in a better manner than that from plant and vegetable sources.
Care should be taken to ensure that your children are being given the right quantity of iron. Consult a physician to know the exact kind and quantity of supplements to be given so that children remain physically and mentally fit all through their lives.
Iron is an important supplement required for healthy physical and mental development of children. Iron helps produce hemoglobin in the red blood cells that carry oxygen to all cells and all parts of the body. As all functions of the body depend on oxygen, it is vital that iron intake is correct for children. Children of different ages require different quantities of iron. Giving them the right amount the right way keeps them healthy all through life.