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Published June 05, 2009, 12:00 AM

Make sure to get enough iron in your diet

“Mom, did you know that chocolate milk has 4 percent iron and white milk doesn’t have any? My friend has white milk and I have chocolate milk for lunch at school. Yeah! Chocolate milk is healthier than white milk!” my competitive, chocolate-loving 5-year-old daughter announced one day as she put glasses on the dinner table.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“Mom, did you know that chocolate milk has 4 percent iron and white milk doesn’t have any? My friend has white milk and I have chocolate milk for lunch at school. Yeah! Chocolate milk is healthier than white milk!” my competitive, chocolate-loving 5-year-old daughter announced one day as she put glasses on the dinner table.

I didn’t know that kindergartners discussed the nutrition labels on their milk cartons during school lunch.

“I guess I haven’t compared iron in different kinds of milk. Milk is most important for the calcium and vitamin D it has. Did you know that your carton of milk provides about one-third of the calcium you need every day? White milk and chocolate milk have about the same amount of calcium,” I responded as I removed dinner from the oven.

“No, we just looked at the iron,” she said as she put forks on the table.

“We’re having spinach salad for dinner. Spinach has iron in it. Would you like some?” I asked, amused at the direction this conversation was going.

“Mom, I don’t like spinach. I’ll have five carrots instead of spinach. Maybe I’ll even eat six,” she bargained.

I heard her 14-year-old brother chuckling from the next room. I could almost sense relief that his little sister now was serving up anecdotes for my nutrition column, which often has featured him the last decade.

“How about some brown rice? That has some iron in it,” I offered.

“How much iron does it have?” she countered.

“It has 2 percent of the daily iron requirement,” I answered, looking at the package. I was a little disappointed it didn’t have more iron than chocolate milk.

“How about if I have chocolate milk instead of brown rice?” she asked.

I’m pleased to report she ate most of her brown rice and drank white milk.

Iron deficiency anemia is a common nutritional deficiency worldwide, especially among children. It can result in fatigue, learning disabilities and behavioral issues. Kids ages 4 to 8 need about 10 milligrams (mg) of iron a day because of their rapid growth and development. Kids ages 9 to 13 need 8 mg per day.

Not only children are affected by iron deficiency. About 2 percent of adult men, 10 percent of Caucasian women and 20 percent of African-American and Mexican-American women have iron deficiency anemia, according to a 2007 report in the American Family Physician Journal.

The human body needs iron to move oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Iron is an important part of hemoglobin, which is the part of the red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body.

To meet your nutrition needs, eat a variety of foods, including iron-rich foods, in your meals and snacks every day. Compare nutrition labels. Many grain products are fortified with iron.

In some cases, an iron supplement is needed, so check with your health care provider for more details. Keep iron supplements out of reach of children.

These are some good sources of iron:

- Lean meat (3.2 mg per 3-ounce patty).

- Tuna and salmon (1.1 mg per 3 ounces).

- Iron-enriched bread and cereals (0.9 mg per 1 slice of bread; amount varies in cereals).

- Cooked dried beans (4.1 mg per 1 cup).

- Leafy, green vegetables (1.9 mg per ½ cup of spinach).

- Eggs (0.7 mg per egg).

- Raisins (0.8 mg per ¼ cup).

Iron from meat, fish and poultry is the most easily used by the body. Help your body use the iron in grains, beans and vegetables by adding a vitamin C-rich food, such as orange juice, to your menu. Include a meat product that naturally contains iron with plant-based iron sources to improve iron absorption.

Try this iron-rich recipe.


Beef and Cheddar Sloppy Joes

2 pounds ground lean beef

1 onion, chopped

1 cup ketchup

1 cup tomato juice

1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Salt and pepper to taste

8 whole-wheat buns

Brown meat and onion in a large skillet. Drain fat and add remaining ingredients.

Simmer for about one hour. Serve on hamburger buns.

Makes eight sandwiches (eight servings). Each serving has 370 calories, 32 grams(g) of carbohydrate, 12 g of fat, 4 g of fiber, 780 mg of sodium and 4.2 mg of iron (or about 25 percent of the daily recommendation).


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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