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How can I raise my child’s haemoglobin level?

Q: My 16 months old child is highly anaemic. What food should I include in his diet to bring his haemoglobin and RBC count to normal?

A:Anaemia is a condition where the level of haemoglobin in the blood is below the normal range. Haemoglobin is the iron-containing molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body so, in anaemia, less oxygen can be carried and delivered to the tissues. From age one until puberty, the normal haemoglobin level is 11g/dl or above. Levels of haemoglobin may be low because the number of red blood cells is low, or because each red blood cell has an abnormally low amount of haemoglobin within it. Iron is an important dietary mineral that is involved in various bodily functions, including the transport of oxygen in the blood essential in providing energy for daily life. Iron is also vital for brain development. Babies, toddlers, preschoolers and teenagers are at high risk of iron deficiency, mainly because their increased needs for iron may not be met by their diets. Without intervention, a child whose diet does not provide them with enough iron will eventually develop iron deficiency anaemia. The signs and symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia in children can include: • Pale skin • Fatigue • Weakness • Loss of appetite • Tiring easily • Breathlessness • Frequent headaches • Becoming irritated easily • Concentration difficulties • Cracked or reddened tongue • Strange food cravings Suggestions to prevent or treat iron deficiency in toddlers and preschoolers include: • Meat, poultry and fish are important sources of iron in your child’s daily diet. Other sources include dark green leafy vegetables, dried beans, lentils, chickpeas, soyabeans, fish, eggs, nuts and iron fortified cereals. Milk and other dairy products are extremely low in iron and may interfere with iron balance, especially in very small children. • Vitamin C helps the body to absorb more iron, so make sure your child has plenty of fruit and vegetables. Consuming foods rich in vitamin C such as oranges, mandarins, berries, mangoes and tomatoes with iron-rich foods enhances the absorption of iron. Some foods are naturally rich in both iron and vitamin C such as broccoli and other dark green leafy vegetables. • Encourage solid foods at mealtimes and take care that children are not ‘filling up’ on drinks between meals. • Chronic diarrhoea can deplete your child’s iron stores, while intestinal parasites such as worms can cause iron deficiency. See your doctor for prompt diagnosis and treatment. • Fussy eaters may be at risk due to poor intake or lack of variety in the foods they eat. • Never intentionally give your child iron supplements unless you have been instructed to do so by your doctor. Avoid the temptation to self-diagnose and give your child over-the-counter iron supplements, because an overdose of iron can even cause death.

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