Children who have a restricted diet due to sensory sensitivities or other eating challenges may have an iron deficiency. Although many foods are fortified with iron, children with a restricted diet may not be getting enough for their needs. After considering symptoms, I suspected that one of my autistic children had iron-deficient anemia due to a sensory-based restricted diet. A blood test can be used to confirm an iron deficiency. This article covers general symptoms and treatment for iron deficient anemia.
***Disclaimer***: I am not a medical professional. The information I have included on diet based iron deficiencies I found from searching through various websites. Please consult your child’s doctor and/or a dietician to evaluate and treat your child’s specific needs.
Symptoms of an Iron deficiency or Anemia
An iron deficiency can make it so the child’s body does not have the nutrients it needs to produce enough red blood cells. The red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. Red blood cells are important for muscle function, energy, and brain development.
Iron-Deficient Anemia may result in the following symptoms:
- attention and behavior challenges
Ways to Get More Iron in the Diet
Meat sources for iron are more easily absorbed than plant sources. Red meats contain the most iron. If your child will eat hamburger meat, steak, or other red meat, they probably won’t have iron-deficient anemia.
Plant sources of iron are not as easily absorbed by the body. As such, child will probably need to consume twice as much iron from a plant source versus a meat source. In addition, a source of vitamin C will help the body absorb the iron; however, milk products/calcium will inhibit absorption. With this information in mind, I try to space out milk and calcium intake away from iron intake during the day for my child.
Popcorn (7%), dried apricots (2%), and apple juice (4% if from a jug rather than a can of frozen concentrate) are all additional ways to get more iron in the diet. These numbers are based on food labels for products I bought, but check individual product labels for the percent of daily iron each particular food item provides.
Any kind of bean is high in iron. Soy beans, kidney beans, and even chocolate can be a good source of iron. I have a bag of dark chocolate chips that says 1 Tablespoon of chips provides 6% of daily iron needs.
Many cold cereals are iron-enriched, some offering 50% of the dietary needs for iron per serving. Bread products and white flour may also be enriched with iron.
After searching Amazon listings, I decided to give my child the Iron Kids supplement from Amazon. These vitamins are in the form of a gummy, increasing the chances my child would actually consume it. I did check with a doctor at his annual check-up and was told it was okay to give him an iron supplement. I would say this iron supplement is a success as my child will eat it. The Iron Kids supplement in combination with adding in iron-rich foods to my child’s diet will help him meet his iron dietary needs.
Cast Iron Cooking
Cooking in cast iron pans will fortify your food with iron as it cooks. Cook or heat the foods your child likes in cast iron for this added benefit. CLICK HERE to read about my top 6 cast iron picks for everyday cooking. CLICK HERE to read about the benefits of cast iron cookware. CLICK HERE to read about how to easily care for your cast iron.
Conclusions on a Diet-Based Iron Deficiency
If you notice symptoms of an iron deficiency, such as fatigue, irritability, and focus, it may be time to check in with your child’s doctor for evaluation. Consider adding iron-rich foods to your child’s diet. Cast iron cooking should also help fortify your child’s food with iron.