NEW ORLEANS — Segments of the US population for years have heard health guidance about cutting down on red meat consumption. Yet one age category possibly could eat more: infants and toddlers, especially those age 7 to 12 months old.
Frank R. Greer, MD, emeritus professor of pediatrics and nutritional science at the Univ. of Wisconsin – Madison School of Medicine, made the case for consumption of heme iron found in red meat and dark poultry in a June 3 presentation in New Orleans at IFT19, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and exposition.
“The iron requirements are relatively large compared to all the other micronutrients,” he said. “The iron requirement for age 7 to 12 months is 11 mg per day, which decreases to 7 mg per day for 12 to 24 months.”
Iron deficiency has been shown to affect development negatively and lead to anemia. Heme iron is absorbed by the body better than non-heme iron such as that found in green vegetables and eggs, Greer said.
“We need some alternatives to iron-fortified rice cereal,” Greer said. “It’s not a terribly nutrient-dense food, and we’ve got plenty of other whole grains that could be used instead. We need to have more complementary foods that are naturally rich in heme iron as in red meat, and maybe industry can come up with ideas on how to do this. Most meat consumed in infants’ and toddler diets is actually in mixed dinners. At the very least you could add more meat to the mixed dinners.”
Complementary foods are foods other than breast milk or infant formula introduced to infants to provide nutrients.
The government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans for the first time will provide guidance for infants and toddlers from birth to 2 years old when the Guidelines are updated in 2020. Greer was involved in research that could influence the upcoming Dietary Guidelines. A supplement in the April issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition included systematic reviews on diet and health for women in pregnancy and infants and toddlers from birth to 2 years.
Allergenic foods in the diets of infants and toddlers also could be discussed in the forming of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines. A study appearing in the Feb. 25, 2015, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine found introducing peanuts into the diet early in life significantly decreased the frequency of peanut allergy development. In the study, 640 infants with severe eczema, egg allergy or both were divided into two groups: one who avoided eating peanuts until age 5 and the other who began eating peanuts as early as 4 months and at least before the age of 11 months.
Eating peanuts led to an 80 percent reduction in the incidence of developing peanut allergies, Dr. Greer said, which means the Dietary Guidelines possibly could include some recommendations about early intake of peanuts.
“I can guarantee you that five years ago any parent, dietitian, pediatrician wouldn’t think of introducing peanuts at 4 months of age to a kid with severe eczema or egg allergy,” Greer said.
Another surprise came in a survey showing 28 percent of toddlers in the United States have less than the recommended fat intake.
“Everybody was very surprised,” Greer said. “I think we’re still debating what to do with the information.”