Preventing iron deficiency…
“Not an easy task on a restricted diet” – that’s what the dietician said, so now I don’t feel so bad that Zac’s levels were low in the blood test results. Apparently most people struggle to get enough iron in their diet and for little ones, particularly those with restrictions, it is even tougher.
Ironically, when the blood test results were posted to us – they came with a tip sheet on how to get the iron into his diet – and many of the suggested sources were ‘unavailable’ to us, e.g. Weetabix, Cheerios, Shreddies, Weetabix, wholemeal bread, nuts, eggs. I guess this is a standard sheet – but it would be useful if they had one for those on restricted diets. So this blog post is my attempt at creating one.
We are avoiding nuts and eggs, until the next round of testing. He does have eggs cooked into things, but on this diet sheet it says egg yolk is a good source of iron, and there is no way I will try him on a ‘dippy egg’ or anything similar until we are 100% certain that it won’t cause a reaction. Same goes for nuts. He has food that says ‘may contain traces of nuts’ – but I am not about to give him peanut butter or a handful of almonds until we know for sure that he is ok with these too.
So what does it leave? Here is the list, as I worked it out – for anyone who is dairy free, gluten free, egg free and nut free.
Red meat is the best source of iron – Zac won’t eat it unless whizzed up in a Bolognese sauce, but we do try and get it in him once a week at least. Although, we all prefer pork and turkey mince to ‘beef’ mince and apparently that is also quite a good source – less likely to have horse DNA too. Although I am sure horsemeat is very rich in iron.
Liver – when you are pregnant and weaning your little ones, you are told to avoid it, so I have never got round to introducing this one yet, not sure I ever will – still haunted by memories of leathery looking liver at school dinners when I was little.
Chicken and turkey – especially the ‘brown’ meat. My favourite and full of flavour. Zac will never and has never picked up a piece of chicken to eat, but again, he will eat it whizzed up in a pasta sauce, so this is all I can do for him, and do try at least once a week. Turkey thigh is a very cheap cut of meat, great slow cooked and richer in iron than the breast.
Bacon/ham – same thing. Won’t eat them ‘neat’ and to be honest, ham is a danger zone – if it is anything less than ‘real ham’ sliced off the bone in front of your eyes. Most packet and processed ham contains milk protein – not sure why – and often nasty looking breadcrumbs are stuck to it, so a very risky option for a dairy free, gluten free child. Best avoided in my opinion.
Another minefield for allergic people. Particularly white fish and seafood. But apparently tuna, salmon, mackerel, fish fingers, sardines and pilchards are all great for iron. These are the easiest to blend into a pasta sauce too and the most popular with our little man. So a tuna sauce is on the menu at least once a week also. Another interesting tip for those struggling with calcium – a typical issue for the dairy free kids. If you buy sardines with tiny bones and blitz it into submission to make a paste, this is a good way to supplement your little persons calcium levels.
Fruit and vegetables
Dried fruit, e.g. apricots, figs, prunes, raisins and sultanas. Zac loves dried fruit. The only thing we have to watch is that he doesn’t eat too much, as they can have a laxative effect. Also, they are not great for teeth either, according to the very cautious health visitor we used to see – so if snacking on sultanas, wash them down with plenty of water – or even clean their teeth straight after to be sure there are no sticky bits hanging on!
Dark green, leafy vegetables – broccoli, cabbage, spinach and spring greens such as kale. These are all a bit on the expensive side these days and have a very limited fridge life. I have discovered a solution to this – buy frozen spinach! It usually comes in quite large bags, found in the freezer section with all the other veg. It comes in handy ice cube shaped frozen chunks. When I am making a pasta sauce I just grab 3 or 4 bits straight from the freezer, throw them in the simmering sauce and they melt pretty much instantly, adding your iron with minimum mess and fuss. Easy. No stringy stalks to worry about either.
Cereals and breads – I assume that the wholegrain gluten free versions of bread and cereals are also high in iron. So Zac usually has a good mixture of these each day. He sometimes snacks on his ‘special dry cereal’, so I hope that is helping him.
Pulses and beans – my favourite and another easy ingredient to work with and boost the iron content of any meal. Zac won’t eat baked beans, but for any that do – great. Nothing is easier than beans on toast! So until the time comes when Zac is tempted to try them, I try other methods to sneak them in. I use a variety of beans and pulses – flageolet, borlotti, cannellini, kidney beans, butter beans, chick peas, lentils.
And yes, I add them to pasta sauces! I find chicken goes well with chickpeas, tuna with cannellini, flageolet or borlottis. Lentils are great in any kind of slow cooked meat dish and butter are great in a turkey curry or sausage casserole.There is no other way of getting these things in him. The dietician told me not to worry. It is normal to be anxious about new foods, when you are a little boy surrounded by people who anxiously read every ingredient on every food label before declaring it ‘safe’ and then encouraging him to try it.
The nice thing about blending your sauces with pulses is that it makes them so ‘creamy’. A really yummy texture and obviously nice and filling. It also increases the protein content in the meal, and makes everything go a lot further. So in these austere times, half the amount of meat and a few extra beans is not only frugal but a healthy decision too. Having said that pulses are not as cheap as they once were and it makes sense to shop around.
My best tip is to look in the ethnic foods section. Last week I found a tin of chick peas and a tin of lentils each at 20p less on the Indian shelf. I also found my coconut milk, black eye peas and split peas all much cheaper in the Jamaican section. Coconut milk (one of my favourite ingredients) is also usually about 20p a can cheaper in ethnic foods and often can be found on the Indian and Jamaican shelves. You can often find chick peas and butter beans or ‘giant beans’ with the Greek foods too. And also, the best selection of gluten free noodles is down there too – amongst the Japanese food – they are just plain rice noodles and sometimes buckwheat noodles. I have blogged on my ethnic discoveries before – so have a read to discover some more hidden treasures. https://feedingmyintolerantchild.com/2012/06/28/rice-noodles-a-naturally-df-gf-product/
This is a very crucial and not a particularly well known fact – you need vitamin C to help absorb the iron from your food. So a good amount of vitamin C is needed at each iron boosted meal, just to make sure they get full benefit.
This can be as simple as offering a drink of orange juice, or even a vitamin C fortified squash. My kids won’t drink anything other than water so we have to achieve our vitamin C through foods, e.g. peppers, tomatoes and potatoes.
So now I don’t feel that it is such a cop out to put his spinach in a tomato based pasta sauce. It is actually better to eat it mixed with tomatoes than to chew on a raw baby spinach leaf!
A few other vitamin C sources mentioned on the list were mango and melon. We are waiting to get allergy tested on these, as they are well known triggers for some children, and Zac had his worst ever and most dramatic ‘itching fit’ minutes after eating a fruit salad that contained melon and mango. He had not eaten either, just put them in his mouth and then spat them out straight away. If it turns out he is allergic to them, spitting them out could have saved his life. Because he was so itchy from just such a momentary contact, I dread to think what might have happened had he swallowed it.
So for anyone who thinks us parents with allergic kids are pandering to them when we let them reject foods and spit them out, think again. It might actually be nature’s way of protecting them and their way of telling us that something doesn’t feel right. I know I will never force him to try something he has rejected and the dietician has backed me up on this. She said the best way to coax him through his anxieties, is to get him thoroughly tested, explain what we know and then work with him to build his confidence. Making mealtimes a battle works for no-one and for an allergic child it could have scary consequences. So I just involve him in shopping and food preparation and hope that this will be enough to stimulate his interest as he grows up and starts to understand a bit more.
One other slightly odd fact to end on – drinking tea reduces the body’s ability to absorb iron from food. So do not offer this at meal times or for half an hour after a meal. So if you want to get the most from your breakfast, save the tea for later!
Here are some links to some of my blog posts that have recipes that should be good iron boosters -enjoy.
https://feedingmyintolerantchild.com/2012/09/19/gluten-free-dairy-free-cottage-pie-it-does-work/ (potatoes and red meat)
https://feedingmyintolerantchild.com/2012/06/07/dairy-free-chicken-curry/ (chicken and butter beans)
https://feedingmyintolerantchild.com/2012/05/30/turkey-rainbow-sauce/ (turkey, tomatoes and broccoli)