Getting to The Meat of The Matter: Are Canadian Babies Receiving Enough Iron?


A recent national survey revealed 70 per cent of Canadian mothers are unaware that babies six to 12 months need 11 mg of iron per dayi – that’s nearly 40 per cent more than is required of a full-grown man! Yet some startling stats from a national Canadian survey of mom’s found that:

• 40% are unaware Health Canada recommends meats and alternatives as first foods for babies.

• 45% are unaware that the iron found in meats is better absorbed than the iron found in plant-based foods.

• 49% are unaware that iron deficiency anemia in infants is associated with irreversible developmental delays.

The Canada-wide infant feeding survey was commissioned to help inform parents how and when to introduce babies to iron-rich foods. “We understand that new parents can feel anxious and overwhelmed when it comes to making decisions that may impact their child’s health,” says Mary Ann Binnie, Manager, Nutrition and Industry Relations, Canadian Pork Council. “The tried and true traditions your mother-in-law swears by or the most recent trend in your favourite mommy blog could contradict what Health Canada recommends. Our aim is to help Canadian parents cut through the information clutter and feel supported in their decisions when it comes to feeding their families.”

Based on survey findings, Canadian moms are seeking infant feeding information from a wide variety of sources including doctors and pediatricians, online resources, baby care books, magazines and of course, friends and family. While moms of infants are aware that iron is an essential nutrient, there is confusion surrounding when parents should be introducing iron-rich solid foods like meat into their baby’s diet.

“Iron supports your baby’s growth and developmentii which is why iron-rich meats such as beef, lamb, game, poultry, and fish are great additions to baby’s mealtime,” says Joyce Parslow, home economist with Canada Beef. In 2012, Health Canada released new guidelines advising parents to offer their six-month old infants meat, fish, poultry or meat alternatives two or more times a day, on a daily basisII. While other foods may offer significant amounts of iron, meat provides our bodies with heme iron – a more easily absorbed variation of the nutrient. Adding meat to a meal also helps absorb up to four times the amount of iron from other foods like green vegetables, bread and cerealsiii.

Only about half of moms (55 per cent) surveyed were aware that heme iron found in meats is better absorbed than other dietary iron, or that iron deficiency anemia in infants is associated with irreversible developmental delays (51 per cent).

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About the Infant Feeding Survey
The Infant Feeding Survey was commissioned by Canada Beef and the Canadian Pork Council on the topic of introducing meats into babies’ diets. A total of 310 mothers with an infant aged newborn up to 23 months participated between April 13-16, 2017. Research was conducted by People Talking Market Research Services using online panelists from the Angus Reid Forum. Survey respondents were selected from among those who have registered to participate in Angus Reid Forum online surveys. The data has not been weighted to reflect the demographic composition of mothers of infants. Because the sample is based on those who initially self-selected for participation in the panel rather than a probability sample, no estimates of sampling error can be calculated. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to multiple sources of error, including, but not limited to sampling error, coverage error, and measurement error.

i National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand including Recommended Dietary Intakes. Canberra: NHMRC, Wellington: Ministry of Health, 2006.

ii Health Canada joint statements (2015). Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants: 1. Recommendations from Birth to six Months, and 2. Recommendations from Six to 24 Months.

iii Experiments suggest that adding 50 to 85 grams of meat to a meal results in a 1.5- to 4-fold increase in iron absorption (Baech 2003; Baynes and Bothwell 1990; Cook et al 1976; Engle-Stone et al 2005; Navas-Carretero 2008).

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