Vitamins and Minerals Overview
Your child's body needs small amounts of the essential nutrients called Vitamins and Minerals. Your child should get these by following a varied and healthy balanced diet with lots of lean protein, low GI carbs, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables plus adequate amounts of water. See our article here on 'HEALTHY NUTRITION OVERVIEW'. Children should NOT normally need to take supplements and only do so if advised by your health professional.
It should be noted that nowadays many children DO lack sufficient nutrients for healthy growth because they do NOT eat a healthy enough diet. Typically, for example, children eat insufficient fruit and vegetables and don't drink enough milk. They eat far too much processed foods and sugar and these empty calories mean they are 'too full' for the good stuff! For example in Australia approximately 70% of children do not get enough calcium on a daily basis. This is the situation for many, many countries. And not just for calcium.
Your child needs vitamins to grow into a healthy human being. Supplements are not the answer. Healthy food is the answer! A huge percentage of children nowadays are not being given sufficient vitamins and minerals in their diet.
Vitamins help to keep skin, eyes, bones and teeth healthy, boost the immune system, aid growth and development of body cells , including red blood cells, and help the nervous and brain systems to function correctly. Some vitamins e.g. Thiamin (B1) and Riboflavin (B2) facilitate the release of energy from your child's carbohydrate intake.
There are two main types of Vitamins, namely fat-soluble vitamins and water-soluble vitamins. The difference between the two is that water soluble vitamins cannot be stored in the body so are required quite regularly. Fat-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, can be stored in your child's body (in their fat or liver) and can be used by their body on an as-needed basis. Your child therefore does not necessarily have to eat foods containing these vitamins on a daily basis.
Fat soluble vitamins are Vitamins A, D, E and K. These are found in dairy products, oily fish, animal fats, liver and vegetable oils. Water soluble vitamins are Vitamins B and C and come from grains, fruit and vegetables. Because these vitamins are water soluble it is important to understand that they can be lost in the cooking process (e.g. boiling vegetables in water will lose a large amount of the vegetables' vitamins which is why steaming is preferred).
If your child does not get enough vitamins then they may show various symptoms which are worth looking out for :
Lack of Vitamin A - vision problems including dry eyes, scaly skin and possible weakness or weight loss. Ensure your child has plenty of milk, eggs, carrots, green cabbage or kale and apricots.
Lack of Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)- possible stomach cramps, general tiredness, possible weakness and breathing difficulties. Good sources are whole grains, pasta, lean meat, soy based products, beans. Bread and cereal tends to be fortified in this too.
Lack of Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)- general tiredness, sore eyes, slow growth, sores around the mouth and a discoloured tongue. Good sources are nuts, legumes (e.g. beans and lentils), eggs, meat, leafy green vegetables, milk and dairy products
Lack of Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): possible stomach cramps, trouble sleeping, general tiredness, dry eyes, scaly skin and possible weakness. Good sources are eggs, cheese, milk, meat and fish.
Lack of Vitamin C - children may be easy to bruise, dry skin and possibly nose bleeds are some of the signs. Plenty of fruit and vegetables are the answer!
Lack of Vitamin D:possible stomach cramps, late teething or poor growth may be some signs. Exposure to sunlight helps as well as including dairy products in the diet.
Lack of Vitamin E: possible slow growth, weak muscles, eye and eyelid droopiness and lack of coordination. Making sure your child eats whole grains, leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds and eggs are a good way of encouraging a good vitamin E intake.
Lack of Vitamin K: possible excessive bleeding, weak bones and teeth. Making sure your child eats fresh leafy green vegetables (not frozen) are a good way of encouraging a good vitamin K intake.
Minerals help in building strong teeth and bones and also aid your child's body in converting food to energy. They are also vital to general health such as keeping a healthy heart, a normal blood pressure and for the digestive system.
Key minerals include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, potassium, silicon and sulphur. These are found in tiny amounts in various foods such as milk and dairy products, fruit and vegetables, grains, fish, meat and nuts.
Lack of Calcium : weak bones and teeth, slow growth and in severe cases a disease called rickets (bowed legs and really weak bones). Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt as well as nuts and dark leafy greens are good sources of calcium for your child.
Lack of Iron : blood will lack sufficient healthy red bloods cells or anemia and this can lead to weakness, tiredness and slow development in children. Eating lean red meat, dark leafy green vegetables, wholegrains, fish, poultry, legumes (e.g. beans and lentils) , nuts and seeds provide good sources of iron for your child.
Lack of Magnesium : anxiety, irritability, insomnia and poor sleep patterns. In children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD a lack of magnesium can make matters even worse since this mineral has a calming effect. Your child should eat dark green veggies (e.g. broccoli and kelp), nuts, seeds and whole-grains e.g. oats
Lack of Iodine : general fatigue, slow development and cognitive functions and in the worst case a severe lack of iodine can cause a symptom called 'goiter' which is thyroid gland enlargement. Iodine is not found in many foods so it is important to know which ones have iodine. Sea based food such as seaweed, white fish, soybeans , turnip greens and summer squash. Table salt tends to have added iodine too.
Lack of Phosphorous : weak or brittle teeth and bones or poor bone and teeth development, lack of appetite, anxiety and general sluggishness. Milk and dairy foods, meat, poultry and fish, whole grains, rice, potatoes, nuts and legumes are all good sources of phosphorous for your child.
Lack of Sulfur: Eczema, headaches, flatulence, itchy skin, possible link to hayfever. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs , legumes and brussel sprouts are all good sources of sulfur.
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients required for healthy growth and development of children. There is no need to provide supplements since a healthy, balanced and varied diet will provide all of the key minerals and vitamins required by your child.
Information from the World Health Organisation. The document is actually to help in worldwide crisis situations but in the western world these numbers should be obtained through a normal healthy diet rather than through supplements in an emergency situation.
This resource gives information from the University of Maryland Medical Center (but is not children specific). The UMMC was founded in 1823 (actually as the Baltimore Infirmary) and is one of America's oldest medical centers. Some of its goals are to serve the state, region and community in a full range of care options and education of health care providers. The data it presents is extremely well researched and presented.
This resource gives information from the UMMC (University of Maryland Medical Center). Although the information presented is not just aimed at children, it is extremely authoritative from one of America's oldest medical centers. Some of its goals are to be a top class tertiary/quaternary care center and to undertake world-class clinical research.