nutrition and cooking

Minerals and your baby

Minerals and your baby. Where do you find the best sources? How important are minerals for your baby? Spot the signs of mineral deficiencies.

What minerals do for our bodies

Although the body needs only small amounts of each mineral, they all play important roles in our bodies. Calcium is the major mineral for our bones and teeth.

Iron is vital for our red blood cells and muscles. Other minerals maintain fluid balance, sustain a normal heartbeat, and transmit nerve impulses. Iodine is needed for the thyroid gland. Fluoride is necessary, especially in children, for strong teeth and bones, and it enhances the body’s uptake of calcium.

Types of minerals

Minerals fall into two groups: major and trace minerals.

  • The six major minerals are calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, chloride, and potassium. The last three are known as electrolytes, which are essential for sustaining the body’s proper fluid balance.
  • The thirteen trace minerals are needed only in small amounts-but they are nutritionally important, especially iron and zinc.

Sources to minerals

The six major minerals and thirteen trace minerals are found in a wide variety of foods: milk and dairy products, eggs, tofu, seafood, poultry, meat, beans, legumes, nuts and whole grain breads and cereals, and some vegetables.

Read also the article Vitamins for you baby.

How much minerals does my child need?

A varied and balanced diet usually provides adequate amounts of all essential minerals. However, infants and toddlers do have special requirements for iron, zinc, and calcium, which are needed to support the rapid skeletal muscle, bone growth, and expansion of blood volume during the two first years. 


The following charts outline foods that are quality sources of minerals for your infant or toddler. Remember to remove pits and seeds from fruits and vegetables and introduce them appropriately according to your child’s age.

What it does:

It builds bones and teeth and is essential for blood clotting and nerve and muscle function.


6 – 11 months: Breast milk, infant formula, and calcium-fortified infant cereal; Cheddar, ricotta, Swiss, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheeses; cottage cheese; yogurt; tofu (processed with calcium sulfate); dried figs; and parsley

12 – 24 months: Milk, cream, ice cream, yogurt, cheeses, tofu (processed with calcium sulfate), dried figs, halibut, trout, beet greens, collard greens, spinach, basil, and parsley.

What it does:

It’s necessary for the formation of hemoglobin in red blood cells; hemoglobin carries oxygen to every cell in the body.


6 – 11 months: Iron-fortified infant formula, iron-fortified infant cereals, egg yolk, lentils and dry beans, soy bean products, dried figs, dates, raisins, prunes, avocados, spinach, parsley, basil, green beans, and green peas.

12 – 24 months: Milk, cream, ice cream, yogurt, cheeses, tofu (processed with calcium sulfate), dried figs, halibut, trout, beet greens, collard greens, spinach, basil, and parsley.

What it does:

It’s essential for normal cell growth, wound healing, and sexual maturation. It is also an essential component in many enzymes.


6 – 11 months: Zinc-fortified infant formula, zinc-fortified infant cereals, whole grains (except wheat), rolled oats, Cheddar cheese, ricotta cheese, lentils, split peas, chickpeas, lima beans, green peas, spinach, and parsley.

12 – 24 months: Zinc-fortified cereals, rolled oats, whole grains (except wheat), shellfish, meats and poultry, yogurt, Cheddar cheese, Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese, lentils, split peas, chickpeas, lima beans, green peas, spinach, parsley, and ground nuts and nut butters.

What it does:

It’s essential for normal function of the thyroid gland.


Iodized salt, seafood, and seaweed.

What it does:

It strengthens bones and teeth and enhances the body’s absorption of calcium.


Fluoridated water and tea.

(arsenic, chromium, cobalt, copper, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, selenium, silicon, tin, and vanadium)

What they do:

They play a role in a variety of metabolic functions.


A balanced diet will provide sufficient amounts of these trace minerals.

Avoiding Iron, Calcium, Zinc, and Iodine Deficiencies

Minerals are critical to sustain an infant’s growth. Fortunately, choosing the right foods will ensure your baby gets what he needs.


Iron plays a major role in a child’s development, so it’s particularly important that a baby’s diet include good sources of the mineral. The natural supply of iron an infant is born with is usually used up by the age of six months. At that time, breast milk and iron-fortified formula are still important sources of iron, but diet becomes a key  supplier of this nutrient. Let your pediatrician know you are preparing your own baby food. He may or may not prescribe an iron supplement.

For toddlers over one year old, 1 / 4 to 1/2 cup (55 to 115 g) iron-fortified cereal a day should provide an adequate amount of iron. Drinking vitaminrich juices such as apple or white grape juice or eating vitaminrich fruit including peaches, berries, and oranges with iron-fortified baby cereal enhances iron absorption.

After age two, growth rate slows, iron reserves begin to build, and the risk of iron deficiency decreases.

Symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia in your baby include fatigue, weakness, and increased susceptibility to infections. If you suspect your child is iron deficient, call your pediatrician.


Calcium promotes the growth of strong bones and teeth and prevents osteoporosis later in life. Both breast milk and formula provide all of your baby’s calcium needs for most of his first year. After that, diet will again playa key role in helping him meet his requirements.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toddlers between the ages of one and three need about 500 milligrams of calcium daily, or the equivalent of two cups of milk or one cup of milk plus one to two ounces of cheese.

Lack of calcium in the diet can cause rickets, a childhood disorder involving softening and weakening of the bones. Always check with a pediatrician if you have any concern about your baby.


Zinc is used by the body for growth and development, immune response, neurological function, and reproduction. Healthy, full-term, breastfed babies do not need additional zinc beyond what they get from breast milk, formula, or diet.

Some of the symptoms of mild zinc deficiency in infants and toddlers are diminished appetite, slow growth, increased infections and diarrhea, and a reduced sense of taste and smell. If you are concerned about your baby, check with your pediatrician.


At one time in the United States, iodine deficiency disorder (IDD) was a serious problem, jeopardizing children’s mental health. Since the introduction of iodized salt, however, it is no longer a concern in this country.

Iodine is also found in seafood and vegetables grown in iodine-rich soil. Breast milk and iodine-fortified infant formulas are the best sources of iodine for infants.

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