Kids are notoriously picky eaters. For generations, parents have resorted to tricks, special recipes and vitamins to try to get their kids to eat healthy foods. But sometimes those tricks just don’t work. Are you worried your child’s nutrition is lacking? These are the 7 most common nutritional deficiencies in children in industrialized nations, and the foods that prevent and treat them.
A paper published by experts at Seattle Children’s Hospital and University of Washington says that iron deficiencies are one of the two most common nutritional shortfalls among growing children. Iron is important because our blood cells need it to transport oxygen from the lungs to the rest of our body.
Common symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue, “brain fog” and susceptibility to illness. It’s also associated with ADHD and ADD. Meats, nuts, seeds, legumes, vegetables, dried fruit and molasses are good sources of iron and should play a larger role in an iron-deficient child’s diet.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is the other most common nutrient deficiency in children, according to researchers. VItamin D plays a role in bone health, cancer prevention, hormone regulation, brain health, cardiovascular health and blood sugar regulation.
Vitamin D is found in fatty fish, egg yolks and liver. However, no one can meet their vitamin D needs through diet alone. Sunshine is the best source of vitamin D. If you live in an area that gets little sunshine, or your family’s lifestyle prevents your child from getting regular time in the sun, talk to the pediatrician about a giving a vitamin D supplement.
3. Calcium and Magnesium
These two nutrients are especially critical for growing children because they’re the building blocks of bones, teeth and soft tissue. Calcium and magnesium deficiencies can cause a variety of conditions like periodontal disease, easily broken bones, insomnia, anxiety, growing pains and restless leg syndrome.
In addition to dairy products, calcium can be found in plant-based foods like broccoli, kale and oats. Most leafy green vegetables, whole grains and beans are good sources of magnesium.
4. Vitamin K
Vitamin K deficiency in infants can cause Hemorrhagic Disease, a rare disorder that causes brain bleeding in newborns. If you’re a pregnant or breastfeeding mother, and you’ve been put on a low-vitamin K diet because you take blood-thinning medication, talk to a doctor. Your baby may need vitamin K supplements.
5. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is important for your child’s eye health. Subclinical vitamin A deficiencies will often manifest as susceptibility to infection.
Vitamin A is most often found in fortified foods. So, if you choose not to feed your child processed or fortified food products, incorporate liver, dairy products and fish – these foods have the highest levels of vitamin A. Dark green, orange, yellow and red veggies and fruits are good sources of carotenoids, the precursors of vitamin A.
6. Omega 3s
It’s common knowledge that Omega 3 fatty acids are important for cardiovascular health, but did you know that some childhood conditions are linked to diets low in these healthy fats? Studies have linked pediatric ADHD, depression, asthma and Type II diabetes risks to diets low in Omega 3s.
The best sources for Omega 3s are fatty fish, avocados and walnuts. If you have a picky eater who avoids seafood, you may want talk to your pediatrician about an Omega 3 supplement designed for kids.
Researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine concluded that most American children aren’t consuming the amount of fiber recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Current recommendations say that, each day, children over the age of 3 should eat 1 gram of fiber per year of life plus 5 additional grams. For example, a 5-year-old should get 10 grams of fiber each day.
FIber is important for digestive health and can prevent constipation, but you shouldn’t need to turn to fiber enriched food products and supplements to get enough of it into your child’s diet. Good sources include vegetables, fruit, beans and whole grains.
The nutritional needs of a growing child are certainly critical. Growing into a strong, healthy adult requires a well-rounded diet. To safeguard your children’s health, do your very best to feed them a diet with a wide variety of whole, natural foods. If you have a finicky eater, talk to the doctor about using supplements and other strategies to prevent nutrient deficiencies.