Kate Morland and Vicki Martin, Nutritionists
Eating a balanced and varied diet is the best way to ensure your children are getting all the essential micronutrients that help keep them well. Healthy food sources of these micronutrients are described.
Feeding your children a balanced diet is the key to providing all the essential micronutrients that help keep children well. If your child is a picky eater or a vegetarian, or if they are tired and run down and prone to colds and flu, dietary supplementation can be helpful. If you choose to supplement, ensure you use products specially formulated for children’s needs, at child-safe dosage levels.
Micronutrients particularly important for growing minds and bodies include vitamin A, vitamin B family, calcium, iron, zinc and essential fatty acids.
Vitamin A is important for a healthy immune system and antibody production, skin, mucous membranes and good vision. A single virus can lower body vitamin A levels for several months.
Vitamin A rich foods include milk, butter, cheese, egg yolk, liver and some fatty fish, dark green leafy vegetables, mangos, papaya, yellow- and orange varieties of pumpkin and sweet potato
The family of B-vitamins are necessary for your child’s food to be turned into energy.
B-vitamin rich foods include fortified breads and cereals, whole wheat products, yeast extracts, milk and milk products, eggs, liver and kidney, meat, fish and nuts
Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth (about 700-1300mg daily). Without the use of dairy products or dietary supplementation this is difficult to achieve. Deficiency can result in irritability, muscle cramps, nervous agitation and fidgetiness, as well as sleeping problems.
Calcium rich foods include cows or soy milk, cheese, yoghurt, sardines, dried figs and canned salmon.
Iron is essential for the production of red blood cells that deliver oxygen to every cell in the body. Iron deficiency can result in increased susceptibility to infection, fatigue, poor appetite and can make learning difficult. Iron is present in food in two forms; haem and non haem and its bioavailability influences how well you absorb the iron. Vitamin C can help increase bioavailability of iron while tannins present in tea and coffee, and phytates found in husks of grains, inhibit absorption.
Foods with a high bioavailability of iron include red meat, poultry, fish and some fruits and vegetables
Zinc is a trace element required for the growth and development of white blood cells, especially lymphocytes that identify invading germs and produce antibodies to destroy them. It also plays a key role in the growth and development of the brain and is used in over 300 different enzyme processes in the body. Zinc deficiency results in loss of appetite, inhibits growth, slows wound healing, increases developmental and learning disorders and reduces immunity.
Zinc is present in many foods but like iron, its bioavailability varies between foods. Foods rich in bioavailable zinc include red meat, oysters, lambs liver and cheese.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) cannot be made in the body and must be consumed through food. They include the omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Deficiency is rare however symptoms may be seen as excessive thirst, dry rough skin or scalp, or brittle fingernails.
Foods rich in EFA’s include fish, nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables and oils such as flaxseed. Vitamin A is a co-factor nutrient helping enzymes in your child’s body to metabolise EFA’s.
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