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Eating Sand = lack of iron?

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
My ds (20 months) was at day care the other day and the worker mentioned that he had been eating the sand in the play area. She said he really liked it, and when I change his poopy diaper I noticed it was more abrasive than usual. I have been told by my MIL and others that this may be a sign that he is lacking some type of mineral such as IRON and that he may require the type of iron that is found in meat.
Has anyone else had this problem?!?
My dh and I have never fed him meat, mainly b/c we think it is unhealthy -- but if he would be healthier (ie -- not eating sand...) with a 'meat rich' diet I feel like I should be doing this.
I recently gave up meat myself (July) and feel great, the idea of having to cook a steak for my toddler is completly disheartening.
any thoughts??
post #2 of 15
the ingestion of non-food substances for a period of more than 1 month is considered a disorder, and has a name - pica. while deficiencies of the normal diet have been implicated in the causes for craving non-food items like dirt, clay, soap, sand, cloth, plastic, etc there has never been a direct link established. however there is correlation between pica and deficiencies in iron, calcium, zinc, thiamine, niacin, and vitamins C and D.

there may however be other underlying causes for this behaviour.

here is a link to an article on eMedicine that discusses pica.


The treatment section says that you should have a medical evaluation to see if nutritional deficiencies are the cause, but adds, "...nutritional and dietary approaches have demonstrated success related to the prevention of pica in only a very limited number of patients." The tone of the article suggests that pica's cause is mainly psychological.
post #3 of 15
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the quick reply! Working in the mental health field I have some vauge familiarity with the disorder of Pica -- I was under the impression it pretained to the eating of all non-food items; whereas my ds only eats sand. Does this make sense?
post #4 of 15
some pica-sufferers will consume many different non-food items; others only one. the article i linked to is quite thorough.

without meeting your son or knowing your family or daycare situation at all i would guess that, at his age, he is probably just enjoying the sensory input he gets from the behaviour. if it's only happened a couple of times, wait and see if it continues. they won't diagnose it as pica unless it's gone on for a month or more.
post #5 of 15
Has your ds only had one episode of eating sand or is it something he does whenever he is in the play sand? It is normal for toddlers to taste and sample. Putting stuff in their mouths is a normal way of exploring and evaluating things in their world. Both of my kids tried putting sand in their mouths, but they did not develop a habit of eating it.

I would not worry about pica, unless this is chronic or habitual. In the mean time, give him mineral rich foods, like fresh vegs, fresh and dried fruits, nuts, and beans. Talk to your ped. if you really are concerned.
post #6 of 15
Thread Starter 
thanks christacular and melissa17s! It has happened a couple times at day care, and I have noticed it when we're out at the park. I don't think it's anything as serious as Pica; I supose I just wanted to know if it was somehow related to the fact that we don't feed him meat, and so he may be eating sand as a substitute for something he is lacking.
I hope (obviously) he grows out of it, but I worried I may be depriving him of some type of nutrition his body is requiring.
He has a balanced diet of healthy food (whole grains, beans, veggies, fruit, dairy, etc) -- and my dr. told us that he may not be absorbing the iron in the veggies properly. So, I guess that got me a bit worried that I wasn't doing everything I could to make sure he was healthy, YKWIM?
post #7 of 15
the only way to be sure he isn't deficient in some mineral is to have him tested. i really don't believe that sand-eating alone in a child your son's age is an accurate indicator of nutritional deficiency. does your son seem tired? does his heart beat overly-rapidly? does he breathe rapidly (pant) when there seems to be no reason for it?

here is a great article that talks about iron intake and absorption in vegans. you may find it reassuring. i do not believe your son needs to eat meat to get good iron absorption.

post #8 of 15
Thread Starter 
christacular that's brilliant info, thanks!! I've printed out the chart and will refer to it when I get a bit confused now and again. :
THanks for all your help, I feel a lot better about sticking to my guns and not trying to get a slab of beef down his throat :
post #9 of 15
My son had pica due to very serious iron definciancy, he ate sand - a lot, licked the wall and various other things. It took the fourth doctor I saw to recognise it.

My son won't eat meat so I try and get as many nuts and other stuff in him. His iron level was 5 and now is 13 thank God..

Good luck, I think it's great your ds will eat beans etc...mine won't eat those either, I'm always looking for non meat ways of getting iron and protein into the worlds fussiest eater

Keeping up the vitamin C really helps with iron absorbsion.

post #10 of 15
Thread Starter 
Thanks Lisa! I've found some really good kid-friendly vegeterian recipes at www.allrecipes.com -- some creative ways to hide the beans, etc
post #11 of 15
Just wanted time chime in with a second on the vitamin c suggestion. Pair veg sources of iron with another food high in vitamin c for better absorption.

Below are some food sources of iron and vitamin c. Adjust them according to the foods that your child eats.

Sources of iron:
blackstrap molasses
40% bran flakes

baked goods with carob or soy flour
wheat germ
mustard greens
navy, kidney and soy beans
split peas or lentils
dried apricots and raisins
tomato juice

enriched rice, pasta and bread
bananas and avocados
cranberry juice
apples and oranges
broccoli, tomato and carrots
green beans and peas
peanut butter

Some food sources of vitamin c: citrus fruits; broccoli; cabbage; green peppers; tomatoes
post #12 of 15
Awesome! I am so happy that I came here specifically to find ideas for iron sources for my daughter, and apparently hit the jackpot. We went to WIC today and her iron was 10.5, which isn't too low, but they want it higher. And I am determined not to give her meat.The chart is a wonderful resource. Thank you for sharing it.
post #13 of 15
I just wanted to chime in...I don't know how much sand he's been eating, but I remember when I was little sometimes I'd lick the sand off my fingers...just because I liked the salt in it! So who knows why he does it...
post #14 of 15
Here are a few non-meat ideas for getting iron into your little one's diet:

1. Dulse - one serving has 19% of the RDA for an adult for iron.

2. Black strap molasses has 10% - and is pretty good with oatmeal.

3. Sunflower seeds I think or if your DC is too young maybe sun nut butter.
post #15 of 15
Many perfectly healthy toddlers eat sand, it is extremely common. While it's a good idea to have your doctor check his iron your MIL probably see this as an opportunity to "save" DS from your "wacky" vegetarianism. If it turns out that DS has low iron, then there are plenty of veggie iron sources, my favorite is dried fruit. I assume that you are already feeding him whole grains and not white? If not switch to brown rice, whole wheat breads and pasta, etc.
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