A Study of Infant Nutrition and How This Affects Iron Deficiency
On 8 October, Inga Elksne (Širina) will defend her doctoral thesis “Early eating habits in infants and their association with iron metabolism” at an open meeting of the Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) Clinical Medicine Degree Committee (Riga, 16 Dzirciema Iela, Hippocrates Auditorium).
Širina is a nutritionist and doctoral student at RSU and her research shows that infants in Latvia do not get enough iron in their diet. Here Širina tells us how to reduce the risk of iron deficiency and anaemia in infants. It is very important to follow the basic principles of healthy eating in the first year of a child's life: exclusive breastfeeding in the first months, timely introduction of supplementary nutrition, consumption of foods from different food groups, to introduce iron-rich products and exclude of cow's milk.
A child’s development in the first year is significantly affected by quality nutrition. There can be too much or too little intake of nutrients, which can have an irreversible effect on a baby's health. One of the most common microelements that children lack in their first year is iron. Iron deficiency can lead to cognitive impairment that goes hand in hand with language development. Therefore, adhering to the above-mentioned healthy eating habits is necessary not only to prevent diseases later in life, but above all to prevent iron deficiency.
The aim of the study was to observe the eating habits of Latvian infants in the first months in order to identify possible risk of nutrient deficiencies or excesses, as well as to make improvements, if necessary.
The summarised results show that infants' eating habits partially comply with Latvian guidelines as well as those by other leading organisations, such as the World Health Organization, however, only 21% of families follow the recommendations of exclusive breastfeeding. 63% of infants do not eat enough iron, and iron deficiency was observed in 9.6% of infants in this age group, and iron deficiency anemia in 4.1%.
- Breastfeed the baby for at least the first 6 months of their life. If for some reason this is not possible, at least temporary breastfeeding is desirable. Breastfeeding is recommended until 2 years of age.
- Choose vegetables, or porridge as the first complementary food. When making a puree, water or breast milk can be added as a liquid. At first, gluten-free cereals, such as rice, buckwheat, maize, or millet should be given to the baby. Later (between 4 and 12 months of age), you can continue with cereals containing gluten such as oats, rye, or wheat. Priority should be given to wholemeal products. At the same time, excessive intake of cereals is not recommended, as fibres can adversely affect the absorption of iron in the body.
- Meat, fish, or eggs, vegetables, fruits and berries should be consumed daily. Meat should be introduced in the diet at the age of 6 months as one of the first complementary foods, and it is recommended to replace it once or twice a week with fatty fish. Eggs should be introduced at 4–6 months of age to protect against the risk of allergies. Eggs can replace meat or fish from time to time. Including legumes in the diet depends on the individual characteristics of the infant’s body, preferably from 7 months of age. Legumes should be eaten at least once a week.
- Cow’s milk can be introduced into the diet from the age of 6 months to prevent allergies, adding it to other foods in small quantities, but as a separate meal after the age of 12 months.
- There is no need to add salt or sugar when cooking vegetables or fruits.
- A vegetarian diet cannot provide all the nutrients an infant needs, so food supplements should be considered.