Top 7 Essential Nutrients Your Child may be Missing – For Moms the world over, ‘picky eating’ is a problem that unites them all! With so much focus on childhood obesity, parents are getting more interested about the quality of food their children eat rather than the quantity.
Yet, there are still gaps in our overall nutritional intake, which has more severe consequences for kids since they pick and choose so much. Here is a list of the 7 nutrients that are most commonly seen missing in Indian kids’ diets.
Here is a list of the 7 nutrients that are most commonly seen missing in Indian kids’ diets.
Iron deficiency is the most common deficiency among young children; with the WHO estimating that it affects a quarter of the world’s population. Apparently close to 75% of Indian toddlers are anemic as well. Iron is essential for red blood cells which are responsible for carrying oxygen to body tissues. A deficiency causes anemia, making kids feel weak, tired and irritable. Young children are more vulnerable since their bodies are growing rapidly and need more sustenance.
Kids aged 1-3 require 7 mg of iron a day and those from 4-8 years require 10 mg a day. The best sources of iron are heme sources like red meat and poultry, since it is better absorbed this way. But if your diet is vegetarian, your child can still get the requisite RDA of iron from spinach, sunflowers seeds, lentils and beans. To increase absorption of iron from non-heme sources, include some vitamin C in the same meal from foods like citrus fruits, guava, tomatoes or red bell peppers.
2. Vitamin D
Many Moms feel that their children exhibit symptoms of a calcium deficiency like poor bone development and muscle spasms. But the truth is that the average Indian diet includes a lot of dairy that assures an adequate intake of calcium. The problem is with the absorption of calcium, and the culprit here is a Vitamin D deficiency. A lack of enough Vitamin D in the body can also cause rickets. Vitamin D deficiency is said to have reached epidemic proportions in India, especially since our darker skin makes us more vulnerable.
The best source of Vitamin D is obviously sunlight, especially in the early evenings. Kids under 13 years require about 15 micrograms of Vitamin D a day. Few foods contain Vitamin D, but you can still get them from fatty fish like tuna, mackerel, salmon, egg yolks and mushrooms.
Every Mom whose kid has battled constipation knows the importance of fiber in the diet! But a lack of sufficient fiber doesn’t just cause problems with bowel movements; it also causes weakness and excess weight gain. The lack of fiber is a growing problem in today’s generation mainly because of the amount of junk and processed food that kids eat nowadays.
Kids between the ages of 1-3 need about 19 g of fiber a day and kids from 4-8 need 25 g a day. The best way to increase fiber consumption is to switch to whole grain in bread, rice, pasta etc. along with oats, chickpeas, lentils and dried beans. It is important to increase fiber in the diet gradually and also supplement with plenty of water.
4. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient for children, since it aids in growth and development, healthy vision and good immunity. Understandably, a lack of this vital nutrient causes blindness, stunted growth and all kinds of diseases leading to early deaths. The WHO estimates that 250 million preschoolers are deficient in Vitamin A with one study estimating around 62% of India’s preschoolers to be deficient. A lack of vitamin A can also hinder the body’s use of iron and can hence cause a pseudo iron deficiency.
Kids between the ages of 1-3 need about 300 micrograms of Vitamin A per day, while kids from 4-8 need 400 micrograms a day. Vitamin A is found in cod liver oil capsules, carrots, red and yellow bell peppers, sweet potato, pumpkin and beef liver. Breastfeeding during infancy also helps to prevent a Vitamin A deficiency.
Zinc is important for good brain function for everyone, but more so for toddlers and preschoolers, since it is a critical component of cognitive development. A deficiency at the growing stage can result in irreversible consequences. A zinc deficiency is often found accompanying a Vitamin A deficiency and appears as loss of appetite, delayed growth, delayed healing of wounds, lesions on the skin and general fatigue.
Kids between 1-3 years need about 3 mg of zinc a day, while kids from 4-8 years need 5 mg a day. Zinc is not stored well in the body, which means a regular intake is essential. Animal sources like red meat, oysters and chicken are considered better, but plant sources are also good such as spinach, pumpkin seeds, cashews, chocolate, beans and mushrooms. Due to this, kids with a strict vegetarian diet are often found to be more susceptible to a zinc deficiency.
Most women are advised to take folic acid supplements months before they even conceive. This is because folic acid is essential in the formation of new cells, including development of the spinal cord and brain. But the need for folic acid doesn’t end there. Folate is a critical component for heart health, and has become all the more important considering today’s slew of lifestyle diseases.
Kids aged 1-3 years need 150 micrograms of folate a day; while kids aged 4-8 need 200 micrograms a day. Folate deficiencies are fewer in breastfed children, although its incidence increases as children enter toddlerhood. While folic acid is available in a wide variety of foods, high concentration foods include greens like spinach, broccoli, papaya, oranges, lentils, seeds and nuts. Kids who are extremely picky or who eat only one kind of food for several days are more at risk
7. Vitamin B12
While we’ve established the importance of adequate folate, the conversion of inactive folate to the active form requires the presence of Vitamin B12. So a deficiency of this vitamin can cause symptoms of a folate deficiency along with several others that can be quite confusing to identify. A Vitamin B12 deficiency affects several organs, and may appear as nausea, constipation, loss of appetite, fatigue, memory loss and others.
Kids between 1-3 years need about 0.9 micrograms of Vitamin B12 a day, while kids from 4-8 years need 1.2 micrograms a day. This is another deficiency seen more in vegetarian or vegan diets, since the vitamin is not that readily available in plant sources other than artificially fortified foods. Along with meat and eggs, Vitamin B12 is easily available in dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt. A breastfeeding mother who is deficient is likely to have a child who is also deficient.
Even though we aim to get all food groups on the table in a single meal, our kids’ picky eating can rob them of the nutrients you are trying to get into them. But when they don’t eat enough good food, they end up compensating with junk food which leads to all kinds of diseases including obesity. As the U.S Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, says, “The lack of access to proper nutrition is not only fueling obesity, it is leading to food insecurity and hunger among our children’. So keep an eye on what your child is eating, so you can ensure he gets his daily quota of nutrients!