I understand that babies are at risk for iron deficiency. Should I cook baby food (such as apple sauce) in a cast-iron skillet to increase the iron content?
Cooking foods in cast-iron skillets can greatly increase iron content in your food, but you need be vigilant that you don't overdo it. Your baby's health depends on it.
The amount of iron babies need varies greatly with their age. Most full-term babies are born with nearly all the iron they need until they double their weight -- usually at 4 to 6 months of age. But after that, their daily requirement increases substantially -- the recommendation is 11 milligrams a day for infants 7 to 12 months old, and then goes down to 7 milligrams a day for children 1 to 3 years old.
To prevent iron deficiency, mothers who breastfeed can supplement their baby's diet with plain, iron-fortified cereal beginning at about 6 months of age, as well as baby foods rich in vitamin C to improve iron absorption. Mothers who don't breastfeed should use iron-fortified formula beginning at about 6 months.
If you want to increase iron content by using cast-iron cookware, be aware that the more acidic a food is, the more iron it will absorb. In one study, the iron content in apple sauce, an acidic food, increased from 0.26 milligrams in 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) to 6.26 milligrams when cooked in iron cookware. But it's difficult to determine exactly how much iron a food will absorb. There aren't any handy charts to consult for questions like this.
You do want to make sure your child gets enough iron -- iron deficiency in very young children can cause problems in both physical development and mental processing skills. But it's also possible to get too much iron. The upper limit for iron for infants and children is 40 milligrams a day. So, if you do start using the iron skillet for heating baby food, be mindful of the amount of iron your baby consumes.
Also, be on the watch for signs of iron toxicity, especially if you are using iron fortified products, including baby formula. The first stage includes nausea, diarrhea, and, in extreme cases, hemorrhaging. The second stage can be deceptive -- abdominal problems improve, but internal abnormalities continue. For complete information on iron toxicity, see the Emergency Medicine page on WebMD at http://www.emedicine.com/EMERG/topic285.htm. If you suspect any form of iron toxicity, get medical attention for your baby immediately.
Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor: This column was reviewed by dietetic intern Lara Engler and Gail Kaye, nutrition specialist for Ohio State University Extension and director of the Dietetic Intern Program in the College of Education and Human Ecology.
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