March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Iron needs go up dramatically in the teen years. During childhood (ages 9 to 13) both boys and girls need about 8 milligrams of iron daily, according to the Dietary Reference Intakes. For adolescence, more muscle mass and a greater blood supply demand more iron, so the recommendation jumps to 15 milligrams of iron daily for girls ages 14 to 18, and 11 milligrams daily for boys ages 14 to 18. Girls need more to replace iron losses from their menstrual flow.
Many teens — girls especially— don't consume enough iron. Two common reasons are poor food choices and restricting food to lose weight. Kids who don't eat meat regularly may not consume enough either. Unlike calcium, the effects of low iron intake can be apparent during the teenage years.
Iron comes from a variety of foods: meat, poultry and seafood, as well as legumes, enriched grain products and some vegetables. For example, the iron in some common foods is:
- 3-ounce hamburger: 2.5 milligrams
- ½ cup of cooked, baked or refried beans: 2 to 3 milligrams
- 1 slice of enriched bread: 1 milligram.
- 1 cup of iron-fortified breakfast cereal: 4 milligrams, more or less (for cereal, check the Nutrition Facts on food labels for the specific amount)
Teens who drink orange juice with their morning toast or cereal get an iron boost, too. Its vitamin C content makes iron from plant sources and eggs more usable by the body.