Toddlers who eat fruit as a snack rather than with meals are three times more likely to have iron deficiency. “But I thought it was healthy to give my child fruit as a snack,” commented the health professional sitting near me. “It is,” replied Dr Clare Wall, one of three child nutrition experts speaking at a seminar I attended this week. “But it’s also important for toddlers to eat fruit with a meal because it increases iron absorption from that meal.”
One in six Kiwi toddlers are iron deficient and around two-thirds don’t eat enough iron to meet the recommended daily intake. For most, it’s not bad enough to cause anaemia but it is bad enough to affect their behaviour and brain
Eighty percent of our adult brain is formed by the age of three. So just at the time when our toddlers have learnt that saying “NO” causes the big people around them to act in all sorts of funny ways, we need to make sure they somehow get enough brain nutrients into them, particularly iron, zinc and omega-3 fats.
Iron carries oxygen around the body. If a muscle is deprived of oxygen, it dies. If a toddler doesn’t get enough iron the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. It can’t develop so well – and the damage is irreversible.
“I’ve been taking an iron supplement for three weeks and still feel tired.” This was the comment from a woman attending a series of nutrition seminars I was running. She had been discharged from hospital three weeks earlier and prescribed an iron supplement. “When do you take it?” I asked her. “With breakfast,” she replied. Breakfast consisted of muesli with low fat milk or wholegrain toast and a cup of tea. A healthy breakfast – yes. But a suitable meal to take an iron supplement – no.