We’ve been told our son is anemic. We feed him a balanced diet with lots of meat and dairy. What causes anemia?

  • Posted by Dr. Jay Gordon

Anemia is a low red blood cell count, often caused by an iron deficiency or because of bleeding. When anemia occurs early in life, it’s been associated with a lowered IQ or learning disabilities later in life. All of these problems can be eliminated by a good diet during the first years of life.

One of the major causes of anemia in children is milk in the diet which causes micro-hemorrhaging. Small amounts of bleeding in the lower intestine increase the need for iron. If iron supplements are taken, the stomach can become irritated possibly causing more bleeding and the need for still more iron. It becomes a vicious circle.

There is no need to eat red meat to keep your children’s iron intake at the proper level. Excellent sources of iron are blackstrap molasses and dark green vegetables, like spinach, kale, and broccoli.

If you follow the low-fat, no-dairy, and meat-free diet, your child won’t have a problem with iron because he won’t be losing blood after eating dairy products.

When I worked in the Emergency Room at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, I would see chubby, pale children whose parents told me they were drinking two quarts of milk a day. The kids were getting lots of fat, and they weren’t getting enough iron to replace what they were losing in their intestines. As a result, the children were fat, sallow, and anemic. We would sit down with the parents and explain that their children were drinking far too much milk. Invariably they were very surprised because they’d bought into the myth that milk was essential for proper growth. Instead of helping, they were doing their children serious harm.

Blackstrap molasses is a great sweetener that can be added to fresh baked goods or other foods. A variety of dark green, leafy vegetables can be added to salads, mixed with tofu and seasonings as a dip for lightly steamed broccoli, or used as an ingredient in soups and stews. With just a little attention to their diets, it won’t be hard to keep your children from developing anemia.

The Need For Iron

The New England Journal of Medicine reported on a long-term study of iron deficient infants. Complete in 1991, the study showed that when infants were found to have subnormal iron levels, they had lower I.Q. scores and impaired mental functions when tested at age five.

The symptoms of iron deficiency include listlessness, irritability, headaches, and, in some cases, a craving call “pica” which causes the child to eat dirt, paint chips, and other nonfood substances.

The absorption of iron is maximized by consumption of vitamin C at the same meal as iron-containing food.