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Dairy Consumption Does not Cause Iron Deficiency Among Infants and Children

The consumption of cow’s milk per se has not been shown to cause iron deficiency in infants and young children. However, for children aged more than 6 months, complementation with iron-rich foods is required to ensure that they have adequate iron intake.

It has been suggested that the consumption of cow’s milk by infants and toddlers may adversely affect their iron status.1 Yet, although some studies have demonstrated inverse associations between the consumption of cow’s milk and iron status, a cause-effect relationship has not been established.

It is recommended that infants be exclusively fed with breast milk for the first 6 months of life.2 Breast milk provides an ideal balance of nutrients and various factors that help in the optimal development of infants. However, as the iron stores of healthy newborns typically last 6 months, the incorporation of iron-rich foods in the diet is required beyond this period to meet iron needs.

It is plausible that if infants and young children consume significant amounts of dairy products, iron-rich foods may be displaced from the diet. In these cases, there might be insufficient iron intake. However, consumption of cow’s milk and dairy products per se is unlikely to cause iron deficiency or anemia.

According to a systematic review, any unfavourable effects on iron status with cow’s milk consumption appeared to be limited to the ages of up to 9 to 12 months. Otherwise, adverse effects have not been observed with a daily consumption of up to 2 cups (500 mL) of cow’s milk, if complemented with iron-rich foods.3

Nutritional guidelines recommend that young children consume 2 cups of milk per day to meet calcium and vitamin D requirements.2 A study of children aged 2 to 5 years found that 2 cups of cow’s milk was sufficient to maintain vitamin D status and iron stores.4

In conclusion, cow’s milk is unlikely to cause iron deficiency or anemia. For infants older than 6 months and young children, dairy consumption should be complemented with iron-rich foods for adequate nutrition.

For more information: Calcium and Iron Absorption

Keywords: bioavailability , calcium

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