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Avoid Anemia with These Iron-Rich Foods for Teens

Iron is a crucial nutrient for growth during childhood and adolescence. Many foods contain iron, so it won’t be too challenging to find iron-rich foods for teens to enjoy. Here are some foods high in iron to get started.

Did you know that your body needs iron for brain development and growth? 

Iron is essential for teenagers, who are still growing and developing.

The best way for your teen to get the iron he needs is by eating foods that are high in iron.

Iron rich foods for teens

While red meat is the most well-known source, there are many iron-rich fruits and vegetables.

In fact, a varied diet is a great way to make sure your teen meets his daily iron requirements.

Let’s dive into why teens need iron, teen-friendly foods with iron and tips to make sure teens meet daily requirements of this key nutrient for growth.

Why Teens Need Iron in Their Diet? 

Iron is vital for brain development and growth, so kids and teenagers have high daily iron needs. 

Children must get enough iron from when babies are weaned and until they reach adulthood.

Iron deficiency anemia can negatively affect cognitive development, especially during early brain development.

And, children who experience early iron deficiency may not reach their full intellectual potential. 

Athletes also have higher iron needs during adolescence.

Iron helps to create hemoglobin in red blood cells, which carries oxygen from the lungs throughout the body.

When teens play sports, their bodies need more oxygen and more iron in their diet. 

If iron intake is low, you may see signs of anemia in teens, such as fatigue, weakness, or headaches.

Once girls reach puberty, girls have higher daily iron requirements than boys.

Iron is lost during menstruation every month and needs to be replaced.

Girls who don’t get enough iron are at risk of developing anemia.

How Much Iron Do Teenagers Need Daily?

The recommended daily intakes of iron for kids and teens vary based on the age group.

Age GroupDaily Iron RequirementsMalesDaily Iron Requirements Females*
9-138 mg8 mg
14-1811 mg15 mg

*Iron needs are higher during pregnancy

A Word About Iron Supplements for Teens

Iron is an important nutrient, but too much can be dangerous.

The body stores iron, so excess iron may build up in your cells.

In addition, supplements are a concentrated form of iron, so there’s a greater potential that you might get more iron than your body needs. 

Talk to your pediatrician if you’re concerned that your teen’s iron intake is too low.

In most cases, adding a greater variety of iron-rich foods to your teen’s diet will boost iron intake.

Let’s dive into some top iron-rich foods for teens to enjoy while meeting their daily iron requirements. 

Related: How to Fix Iron Deficiency in Toddlers and Kids

10 Yummy Foods With Good Sources of Iron for Kids and Teens  

Heme and non-heme iron are the two forms of iron found in food. 

Meat, poultry, and fish contain heme iron. And certain fruit, vegetables, and other plant-based foods contain non-heme iron.

Both are good, although the body absorbs more iron from heme foods. 

Here’s a variety of foods high in iron to satisfy the whole family’s needs and tastes!

1. Raisins

Other iron-rich fruits include dates, figs, and prunes.

This Oat, Flax & Raisin Breakfast Cookies recipe has three iron-rich foods for teens baked into one cookie – perfect when your teen is on the go.

2. Iron-Enriched bread 

Bread and flour are enriched with iron and other nutrients that are lost during processing.

When you have some extra time on the weekends, try this homemade Honey Wheat Bread recipe.

3. Cereal

Bran cereal, wheat cereals, and cream of wheat are high in iron. 

Whole-grain cereal isn’t just for breakfast, though.

My kids often had a bowl of cereal with milk as an after-school snack.

4. Potatoes

While spinach is the most well-known iron-rich vegetable, potatoes are also an excellent source.

This Potato and Leek Soup is a family favorite.

5. Pasta (fortified)

Like bread and flour, pasta also contains iron.

It’s fortified to replace what’s lost during processing.

Enjoy pasta in this Hearty Chicken Vegetable Soup.

6. Broccoli & Green Leafy Vegetables (spinach and kale)

Can’t get your teens to eat leafy greens?

Try offering other iron-rich vegetables like string beans and potatoes.

Or, try broccoli with Alfredo sauce in this hearty 2 Pot Chicken Alfredo Pasta dinner. 

7. Nuts and Seeds

Pumpkin seeds, almonds, and flaxseeds are high in iron.

Nuts are also a source of protein and good fats, which help satisfy a teen’s appetite between meals.

Granola with nuts is an excellent snack for athletes.

8. Beef, Chicken and Fish

Animal sources such as meat, poultry, and fish contain the type of iron that the body absorbs most efficiently.

For a busy night ahead, turn this Slow Cooker Beef on in the morning and dinner will be ready when you get home!

9. Legumes and Beans

Plant foods like beans, peas, lentils and tofu are high in protein and low in fat.

Beef and Bean Chili is an easy one-pot meal when you have a crowd to feed.

10. Eggs

The yolk of an egg used to be considered bad for you because it contains a lot of cholesterol.

But the yolk also contains choline, which is important for brain health.

Plus, the yolk contains most of the iron in an egg

The current Dietary Guidelines do not specifically recommend limiting eggs.

However, eggs are now a component of the recommended protein intake for the entire week.

Give this egg in a hole recipe a try if you’re looking for an iron-rich food for picky eaters.

Tips to Make Sure Your Teens Absorbs Enough Iron

While the body absorbs heme iron more efficiently, teens can get enough iron on a vegetarian and vegan diet.

Here are tips to help improve your body’s iron absorption from food.

  • Eat foods containing vitamin C with plant-based iron-rich foods like citrus fruits. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron from food. This is especially important for vegetarians and vegans who are eating foods that contain non-heme iron. 

    Good sources of vitamin C include oranges, peaches, red peppers, cantaloupe, spinach and sweet potatoes.
  • Limit calcium when eating foods with iron. Calcium blocks iron absorption. While calcium is another critical nutrient during childhood, excessive amounts of calcium-containing foods like milk can cause anemia in children.  

85+ Healthy Snacks for Teens!

Final Thoughts on Iron for Teenagers

The best approach to make sure your teen is getting enough iron in their diet is to have a variety and enough iron-rich foods in your household. 

This way, teens can choose what they like.

Some great options for iron-rich foods include red meat, poultry, fish, legumes, leafy green vegetables, and fortified breakfast cereals. 

By providing a variety of healthy foods for your teen to choose from, you can help them meet their daily iron requirements and support optimal growth and development.

Does My Teen Need Iron Supplementation?

If your teen has iron-deficiency anemia, yes, they will need iron supplementation to return to a normal iron status. Trying to correct anemia with food takes a long time. Iron supplements are quicker.

If you have a daughter, they will be at higher risk for iron deficiency because they menstruate. It’s important to keep an eye on this!

You may also want to read:

The Nutritional Needs of Teenagers

Serena Messina on The Nourished Child podcast

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