Common Nutrient Deficiencies in Childhood

  • Common Nutrient Deficiencies in Childhood

Many households are under the impression that Canada and the U.S. are exempt from the nutritional deficiencies felt by the less developed corners of the world. While the extremes are certainly different hidden hunger impacts the populations on our soil as well, in particular our children.

In the Plant a Seed & See What Grows foundation’s unabating mission to help change the world one family household at a time we are providing parents, guardians, and caretakers with some insight into the common nutritional deficiencies impacting the health of our children. These sustenance shortfalls are not always made visible by symptoms or health conditions, yet can have long term repercussions on the collective wellness of the nation. By addressing the following, our children will not only reap the immediate benefits of a healthier lifestyle, they will gain the opportunity to truly realize their potential as beneficiaries of a stronger mind, body, and soul.

4 Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Children

1. Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiencies in our youth is surprisingly common. As infants become toddlers they tend to voice their distaste for certain foods which can be a major cause of the loss of adequate intake of this essential mineral. Children need iron for a wide variety of bodily functions. It is a part of hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen from their lungs to the rest of their body where it assists their muscles in the storage and use of oxygen. Without enough iron children can develop anemia which can lead to lethargy and improper cognitive functioning among other debilitating conditions. While your children may be picky eaters it is important to ensure that their diet begins and remains iron rich throughout their developing years. Fortunately there are many options to accommodate the dietary preferences/restrictions of your household. Sustainable red meat, pork, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas can all be quite rich in iron.

2. Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for the absorption of calcium (along with iron, magnesium, phosphate and zinc) in the gastrointestinal tract. Adequate intake of this vitamin is necessary for optimal bone growth and to fend off hypocalcemia and hypophosphatemia (responsible for rickets) and childhood osteomalacia (essentially the softening of bones). As a parent, you are likely familiar with the immediate addressing of Vitamin D concerns by pediatricians upon the birth of your child. It is not entirely uncommon for newborns to undergo UV light treatment in the maternity ward and for mothers to be given a Vitamin D supplement to introduce into breastfeeding. Vitamin D deficiencies are more common in darker-skinned children (for both genetic and lifestyle reasons) and those that have limited exposure to sunlight. Aside from the aforementioned supplementation, children can receive Vitamin D by eating fish rich in essential fatty acids (EFAs) and sustainable foods fortified with Vitamin D such as certain dairy products, soy milk, and cereals. Beef liver and egg yolks are also known to be more rich in Vitamin D.

3. Zinc Deficiency

Zinc is a mineral essential to childhood growth, digestion, sex hormone development, and a strong immunity. A deficiency can negatively impact everything from hair, skin, and nails to cognitive functioning and the height of your child. Parents may quip that caffeine will stunt their child’s growth but in truth a lack of zinc can be the biggest culprit here. Zinc can easily be added to your child’s diet through the introduction of sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, cashews and peanuts, in addition to seafood, meat (beef & pork), cooked beans, peas and lentils. Other options include grains such as amaranth, oats, and wheat while some  fruits and vegetables such as avocado, peas, and berries contain enough zinc to contribute. No matter the dietary restrictions of your household zinc can make its way onto your child’s plate without much fuss at all.

4. Calcium Deficiency

This deficiency likely ranks as the most commonly known and discussed one among developed nations. The repercussions of a lack in calcium are also widely understood as the culprit for a child’s poor development of strong teeth and bones. However, calcium intake also impacts muscle functioning, heart regulation, blood clotting, enzyme functioning, and the transmission of nervous system messages through the body. Simply put, children require a high calcium delivery and thus the three squares and snacks consumed by the entire family may not cut it for the younger half in the household. You already know that milk and milk products contain a lot of calcium but there are many other alternatives, especially for those with lactose concerns. Organic dark leafy green vegetables, soy and tofu, fish (salmon, sardines, and catfish in particular), nuts (almond butter), seeds, and fortified cereals can all fill in for your child’s calcium requirements.

The list of nutritional deficiencies in children of course grows as you expand outside of North America into the world’s developing countries. However Canada and the U.S. is no stranger to hidden hunger and so we hope that we have helped you identify areas in your household’s diet that can be improved. Our foundation wants your children to grow happy and healthy so that they can reach their potential and ultimately contribute to the wellness of the entire world around them. It all starts at your dining room table.

Stay tuned for more from the Plant a Seed & See What Grows blog.

Article reviewed by:

Veronica Kacinik, MSc, RD

Registered Dietitian