We generally know what foods are healthy for our children, but we may not know so much about the micronutrients that children need to grow up healthy and strong.
According to the CDC, at least half of children worldwide from ages 6 months to 5 years suffer from at least one or more micronutrient deficiencies. That’s a lot of children who are missing out. Children only require trace amounts of these vitamins and minerals, but they are essential for a number of different functions including growth and development.
Deficiencies in micronutrients can go unnoticed for a long time, as the symptoms are not obvious. The most common deficiencies in school-age children are a lack of iron, vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc and iodine.
Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide. Iron is essential for healthy brain development, supporting the immune system and transporting oxygen around the body. Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia are pale skin, extreme tiredness, poor appetite and unusual cravings.
It may be hard getting kids to eat dark green leafy vegetables, chicken or beans, but they are good sources of iron. You can get iron drops, but they taste vile, and it’s very difficult to get children to take them.
Infants and developing children need vitamin D for proper bone metabolism and immune system regulation. A lack of Vitamin D has been linked to some serious respiratory infections like tuberculosis, pneumonia and bronchiolitis.
Vitamin D deficiency symptoms aren’t always obvious in children, but can include bone pain, muscle weakness and cramps. Rickets in children has been linked to lack of vitamin D. Dental problems are another area where problems can show up, with soft tooth enamel and teeth not forming properly being one of the signs of a deficiency.
Vitamin D is found naturally in sunshine, and also in foods like eggs, oily fish like salmon and mackerel, and cheese.
Vitamin A is one of the most important micronutrients to aid early childhood development. It supports a healthy immune system, and can reduce the risk of blindness and stunted growth.
Some symptoms of a deficiency can be eye and vision problems, dry skin and hair, and itching.
Vitamin A is found in dairy products such as cheese, milk and yogurt, pistachios and several other foods such as liver.
In children, zinc is essential for supporting the immune system and resisting infection, as well as overall growth. Lack of zinc can manifest through hair loss, eye and skin sores, problems with wound healing, and lower alertness levels.
Zinc is found in beans, beef, lamb, dark chocolate, nuts, and dairy products to name a few popular foods.
The body needs iodine to make thyroid hormones to aid development and growth. When children are lacking in this micronutrient, it can harm development of their nervous systems and brains.
Signs of iodine deficiency can include weakness, dry, flaky skin, feeling colder than usual, and having trouble learning and remembering.
Iodine isn’t easily found in popular food items, but can be found in some seafood, seaweed and dairy products. If you don’t fancy trying to make your child eat seaweed, you can buy iodine supplements.