October 19, 2010

Nutritional Deficiencies in Healthy Children

I recently researched nutritional deficiencies in children for a talk I gave at a school and came across a study outlining the most common deficiencies in otherwise healthy children who are developing normally without any signs of chronic illness or disease.  When I looked at what foods these nutrients are found in, it was yet another affirmation of the importance of eating a whole foods diet.  

"Don't Eat Anything Your Great Grandmother Wouldn't Recognize as Food." 
Our modern diet is highly processed.  Our children eat cereal for breakfast, a sandwich and cookie for lunch, pasta for dinner and a granola bar for a snack.  When considering this "diet" it is easy to see that modern-day, seemingly healthy children are eating "substances" (not  "food") that are lacking in nutrition; they are overfed and undernourished. 

3 Most Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Otherwise Healthy Children
#1 Iron transports oxygen from the lungs to the tissues, muscles and brain.  It is essential for immunity and for creating energy from food.

When kids are lacking iron (microcytic anemia) they are low in energy, are often sick and can have a foggy brain.  Oftentimes kids with ADD and ADHD are anemic.  

 Iron is found in meats (lamb, pork, poultry, liver), nuts and seeds, legumes, vegetables, dried fruit and molasses, among other foods.

#2 Vitamin D3 is essential for the absorption of calcium in teeth, bones and muscle.  It is a hormone regulator and prevents cancer by promoting cell differentiation. It plays an essential role in immunity and blood sugar regulation as well as cardiovascular, muscle and brain health.

Vitamin D3 deficiencies tend to get worse as children mature. Teens tend to be quite low in Vitamin D3 at a time when they need it most for hormonal regulation, immunity and mental processing. 

Vitamin D3 is a fat-soluble vitamin found in canned salmon, cod liver oil, sardines, egg yolk and liver. Since the diet can't provide an adequate amount of Vitamin D3 the best source is sunshine.  Because we don't all have access to sunshine on a regular basis the next best source is supplementation of Vitamin D3.

#3 Calcium/Magnesium are building blocks of bones, teeth and soft tissue.  They regulate muscle and nerve function and manage blood vessel contraction and dilation affecting blood pressure.
A deficiency in Calcium could express as periodontal disease, muscle pains/, anxiety, insomnia, hyperactivity or easily broken bones. A calcium deficiency is often apparent at bed time when a child's body slows down - they may be anxious, have a hard time sleeping or complain of restless legs or "growing pains."

Calcium can be found in dairy products, broccoli, almonds, oatmeal, kale, and molasses, among other foods.  
Honorable Mentions: Zinc, Selenium, B Vitamins, Vitamin C.

A healthy diet is the best way for children to receive nutrition but prevailing farming practices produce less nutritious food and our busy lives don't always leave room for whole food preparation.  I realize how challenging it is to maintain optimal nutrition at all times and thus have become a proponent of prudent supplementation and/or "superfoods."  
A multi-vitamin can be a good way to ensure sure that your child receives adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals make it into the body.  Superfoods (see below) are nutrition-dense foods that can contribute additional nutrition to the diet.  As well, Vitamin D3 is necessary.  I prefer food-based vitamins as they are more readily absorbed by the body. Keep in mind that Iron supplementation should only take place when one has a documented case of Iron Deficiency Anemia.  Iron serves as a pro-oxidant (opposite of anti-oxidant) in the body if one is not deficient.  If you suspect anemia in your child, have your doctor order a complete blood count (CBC).  Remember, supplements are merely a "back-up" - it is important to continue to strive toward a whole foods diet! 

(Please see blog post Children Need Whole Foods for more suggestions on how to improve your child's diet.)

Blue/green algae/spirulina - rich in protein, EFAs, B Vits, minerals, calcium
Seaweeds - iodine
Chia seed - protein, omega 3’s, fiber, calcium
Hemp seed - protein, omega 3’s
Sauerkraut and fermented foods - probiotics, enzymes
Whey protein - high in antioxidants, amino acids, glutathione
Coconut oil - omega 3's, medium chain fatty acids
Eggs, butter, meats from pastured (not "cage-free" or "free-range") - high in EPA, Omega 3, Vit A, Vit D
Cod liver oil - Vit A, Vit D, Omega 3's


Lynde said...

Do you know where I can find organic liver?

Krista Anderson-Ross ND said...

The local health food stores usually have chicken livers for sale in the meat department - ask for them if you don't see them behind the counter. When frozen you can grate it into your child's food while you cook it for added nutrition.