Are your children getting these 4 essential micronutrients in their diet?
Research says micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals which are required in small amounts, are essential for the health, development, disease prevention and overall well-being of children and adults. However, they cannot be produced in the body and have to be derived from diet.
The BMJ (formerly The British Medical Journal) estimates that roughly 2 billion people — or about 29% of the world’s population, faced micronutrient deficiencies in 2010. Nearly 40% of preschool children in developing countries are anemic, and an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 children deficient in Vitamin A loose vision annually.
Since the medical community has established that micronutrients are essential for good health and overall well-being of children, what are those micronutrients that are most important for a child’s growth and development?
Iron deficiency is the most common micronutrient deficiency in the world affecting almost half the children in developing countries. It is essential for making hemoglobin in RBCs (red blood cells) which supplies oxygen to various body parts and a deficit causes Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA). Children under the age of five are most vulnerable IDA, a common type of anemia that causes impaired cognitive development and even childhood morbidity. Anemia can also cause extreme tiredness, pale skin, and lack of appetite. In the long run, anemia can also lead to delays in a child’s learning and motor development.
As preventive measures, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest:
• Infants less than a year who are not primarily breastfed be given infant formula fortified with iron
• Infants that are exclusively or partially breastfed require a daily dose of vitamin D early on, followed
up with supplements
• Older kids need to consume food rich in iron to derive healthy amount of micronutrient
The best sources of iron are lean red meat, liver, lentils, dried apricots, beans, wholemeal bread, dark green vegetables, nuts, eggs, and fortified breakfast cereals. Please note that since vegetarian sources of iron are not absorbed very well by the body, nutritionists recommend including a source of vitamin C to aid in the absorption of iron. Kiwi fruit, oranges, strawberries, tomatoes and peppers are good sources of Vitamin C.
Surprisingly, kids between the age of 1 and 5 who consume more than 24 ounces of milk per day are at risk of iron deficiency.
Vitamin A is one of the most crucial micronutrients for early childhood development. Apart from supporting healthy immune system functions, it keeps skin healthy and helps with vision in dim light. Vitamin A is also reported to considerably cut down the risk of blindness, stunted growth and death from childhood infections like measles and diarrhea. Introducing this micronutrient in a child’s diet can help improve vision, skin and tissue repair.
Vitamin A can be obtained from food containing beta-carotene. Colored vegetables and fruits, especially yellow and red ones such as mango, papaya, apricot, carrots, red peppers and sweet potatoes are excellent sources of this micronutrient. Additionally, it is also found in dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese, and pistachio and cantaloupe.
According to World Health Organization Vitamin D is essential for absorption of calcium and phosphorus and in turn for the development and maintenance of healthy teeth, bones, muscles, proper bone metabolism and immune system. This micronutrient deficiency is also linked to many respiratory infections such as bronchiolitis, tuberculosis and pneumonia. We get most of our Vitamin D from sunlight. However not everyone is lucky to have plenty of sunlight.
In countries farther from the equator where sunlight isn’t abundant, people source the vitamin from oily fish such as salmon, sardines, pilchards, mackerel, and trout, as well as eggs and meat.
Did you know? Deficiency of micronutrients iron and Vitamin B12 in young boys of around 8 years could cause behavioral problems later in life?
Iodine is an essential micronutrient as it is needed to make thyroid hormones that are important for growth and development. Research states that iodine deficiency is the leading cause of preventable brain damage among children. According to NIH, Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia and Eastern Mediterranean are the regions struggling with iodine deficiency. The most devastating effect of this micronutrient deficiency occurs during fetal development and the initial few years of a child’s life. In severe cases of deficiency, it can be harmful to the development of nervous system. About 18 million babies are born with mental impairment because of maternal iodine deficiency.
Fortification of edible salt with iodine is touted to be one of the most successful nutrition interventions to date. Almost 71% of global households have access to and consume iodized salt.
To combat micronutrient deficiencies in children and adults, countries around the world are adopting food fortification. Read how fortification of rice is helping fight against malnutrition.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 50% of children worldwide between the age of 6 months and 5 years suffer from at least one micronutrient deficiency. Clearly, micronutrient deficiency among children is a serious concern. When a child is provided with good nutrition right from the birth, it has a lifelong impact on their physical, mental and social development. An adequate intake of micronutrients is a significant step toward healthy growth of children.