Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals are a godsend for parents: they’re quick, affordable breakfast choices that, when carefully selected to minimize sugar content, provide a useful vehicle for the delivery of other important nutrients, like calcium (from milk) and iron.
Iron is a mineral, and an important micronutrient that is needed to make hemoglobin – the oxygen-carrying part of red blood cells.
Worldwide, iron deficiency is the most common micronutrient deficiency. Childhood growth impairment and learning capacity deficits can occur in iron deficient children.
Maternal iron stores that are transferred from mother to fetus at the end of pregnancy generally last for the first six months of life. After that, it is important that children receive iron fortified weaning foods and other dietary sources of iron.
Enter breakfast cereals…Since most kids don’t eat large quantities of iron-containing foods like meat, poultry and fish – ready-to-eat, iron-fortified cereals fill the iron-intake gap. For kids under 4, eating just 3/4 cup of Cheerios provides 50% of their day’s iron needs.
But a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that the cognitive benefits of supplemental iron might not be as strong as once thought. The study found that after an 8-year follow up, there was no significant differences in IQ between the group of infants and children who received supplemental iron (or zinc, placebo or iron-zinc combo) vs. those who did not.
The implication is that perhaps…more like, probably…the relationship between malnutrition and cognitive development involves more than just one or two minerals.
So is iron still important? Absolutely. Another recent study conducted in Nepal – where iron deficiency is prevalent – found that pregnant women who took iron and folic acid supplements had children that did better on IQ and fine motor skill tests than kids from moms who didn’t supplement during pregnancy.
What’s the bottom line?
Adequate iron intake is important for optimal cognitive development in children. Just how important….no one’s really sure. But it certainly remains the case that iron-fortified cereals are a great way to help kids meet their daily iron needs.
Here’s a short list of this dietitian’s recommendations of iron-fortified cereals good for kids:
- Cheerios – the yellow box – not the higher sugar Honey Nuts!
- Post Raisin Bran
- Original or Honey Kix – both are relatively low in sugar
- Quaker Life
- Total cereals
- Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats – the sugar is higher but the iron is there!