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Vegan Nutrition with Dina Aronson, M.S. R.D.Dina Aronson, MS, RD is a vegan dietitian whose specialties include chronic disease prevention, vegetarian/vegan nutrition, and lifestyle management. She is the founder and director of VeganRD.com, a nutrition consulting company. Active in many vegetarian nutrition organizations, Dina was the recipient of the American Dietetic Association's Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year Award in 2002.
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What is the best way to ensure I am giving my daughter enough iron in her diet? It is difficult to get the 10 mg of iron even when I feed her dried figs, apricots, etc. I am looking for recipes for white beans that she will eat. -Dawn
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The recommended iron intakes for children are as follows:
0-6 months: Breastmilk provides adequate iron, about 0.27 mg/day
7-12 months: 11 mg/day
1-3 years: 7 mg/day
4-8 years: 10 mg/day
9-13 years: 8 mg/day
14-18 years (boys): 11 mg/day
14-18 years (girls): 15 mg/day
Vegetarian and vegan children may require more iron than this due to the fact that iron from plant foods is more poorly absorbed by the body than iron from animal foods. Thus, some recommend multiplying these numbers by 1.8 to get the vegetarian recommendations (for those over 12 months of age only). Regardless, plant foods contain so much iron that vegetarians and vegans eating a balanced diet typically consume more iron than omnivores, and iron status among vegetarians appear to be the same as non-vegetarians. My recommendation is for vegetarians to consume plenty of iron-rich foods, striving for at least the recommended amount (not adjusted for vegetarians), eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin C (which enhances iron absorption), and have the iron checked regularly.
It may seem difficult for your daughter to get the 10 milligrams of iron she needs, but every little bit adds up. Here are some examples:
Firm tofu (3 oz): 8.8 mg*
Soymilk (8 fluid oz): 1 to 1.8 mg (check labels; depends on brand)
Fortified breakfast cereal (1 serving): up to 18 mg (check label; 100 percent is based on 18 mg)
Cream of Wheat (1/2 cup): 6.0 mg
Instant oatmeal (1 packet): 4.0 mg
Blackstrap molasses (1 tbsp): 3.5 mg
Dried apricots (1/4 cup): 1.5 mg
Prune juice (1/2 cup): 1.5 mg
Raisins (1/4 cup): 0.9 mg
Peas (1/2 cup): 1.3 mg
Spinach (1/2 cup): 3.2 mg
Pasta, enriched (1/2 cup): 1.0 mg
Lentils (1/2 cup): 3.3 mg
Navy (white) beans (1/2 cup): 2.3 mg
Soybeans (1/2 cup): 4.4 mg
Tahini (2 tbsp): 2.7 mg
Chick peas (1/2 cup): 2.4 mg
Kidney beans (1/2 cup): 2.6 mg
Pumpkin seeds (2 tbsp): 2.5 mg
Avocado (1/2 each): 1.0 mg
*Tofu can be sliced and lightly fried as "tofu fingers," blended into smoothies, pureed into baked goods, or mashed into tomato sauce… use your imagination!
(To find the iron content of other foods, visit www.nutritiondata.com.)
It might make sense to start the day with a fortified breakfast cereal, and provide a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes throughout the day; almost all whole plant foods provide at least some iron.
To maximize iron absorption, use cast iron cookware and serve plenty of vitamin C-rich foods such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, and potatoes.
As far as white beans, my personal favorite way to eat them is in a salad with chopped tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh parsley or basil, and freshly squeezed lemon juice, but that may not be all that appetizing to your young daughter. You might want to try a white bean hummus dip or spread, white bean soup (puree the beans or leave them whole, depending on her preference), mild chili or salsa with white beans on tortilla chips, or pureed white beans blended into mashed potatoes.