Every good parent knows how important it is to make sure their child is eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. But sometimes this is easier said than done. Here are four essential nutrients that many children don’t get enough of.
Often considered in the health of women, iron is one of the top nutrients for children that parents need to keep an eye on. Iron is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin, a part of red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. Low iron levels can lead to fatigue and anemia. While dangerously low levels are far less likely than they once were, toddlers and other picky eaters are still at risk for not getting enough iron. Children who drink too much milk are also more likely to have low iron levels.
Ideally, children between the ages of four and eight should get about 10 mg of iron each day (click here for a full list of nutrient requirements for children). Good food sources include lean red meat, seafood, eggs (yolks), beans, dark leafy greens, nuts and dried fruits. In general, the body is better able to absorb heme iron found in animal foods than the non-heme iron in fruits, vegetable and grains.
To help ensure your child is getting enough iron, be sure they’re getting enough vitamin C, which helps the body absorb iron.
If you’re concerned your child isn’t getting the iron he or she needs, there are a variety of child-friendly supplements available. But remember, too much iron can be dangerous, so always keep supplements out of the reach of your child.
This liquid iron supplement is suitable for children ages 6 and up.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, few children and adolescents are actually consuming the full recommended levels of calcium. Calcium is essential for building strong bones and teeth. Less than optimal bone mass not only puts children at greater risk for fractures, but it also sets them up for osteoporosis later in life.
The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences recommends 500 mg of calcium for 1-3 year-olds, 800 mg for children ages 4 to 8, and 1,300 mg for 9 to 18 year-olds. The most commonly thought of source of calcium is milk and other dairy products, but it’s also found in a number of other foods, including salmon, tofu, spinach, white beans, broccoli, peas and almonds.
For optimal bone support, make sure your child is also getting adequate amounts of vitamin D and magnesium. These are among the key nutrients necessary for the body to properly absorb and use calcium. And exercise is also essential for healthy bones, so keep kids active.
Many parents mistakenly assume that children’s multivitamin and mineral supplements help kids get enough calcium, but most formulas don’t contain much calcium. For the best support, choose a children’s calcium supplement in addition to a multivitamin.
Going hand-in-hand with calcium, vitamin D is another one of the essential nutrients for children. Not only is vitamin D important for bone health, but it also provides support for the immune system and mental and emotional health. But many kids aren’t getting enough.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids get a minimum of 400 IU per day. While the body naturally makes vitamin D from sunlight, kids are spending more and more time inside and therefore aren’t making as much of their own. Making things even harder, many foods, unless fortified, don’t contain significant amounts of vitamin D. Fortified milk is probably the best food source, but the AAP says children who don’t drink a quart each day should take a vitamin D supplement.
Fortunately, plenty of kid-friendly options are available.
From granola bars to all kinds of snacks, fiber is in. Well, at least it has been for adults. Many parents make sure they’re eating their whole-grain, fiber-rich cereal each morning, but what about the kids?
Fiber is just as important for children as it is for adults, supporting optimal digestion as well as a healthy weight. But many kids, especially picky eaters, aren’t eating enough of the fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and grains to support optimal amounts. This is why so many children often suffer from constipation.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, fiber intake each day should equal your age plus five (with a maximum of 35 grams). For example, if your child is five, they should be getting 10 grams of fiber. If they’re ten, they need 15.
High-fiber foods have at least 5 grams of fiber per serving, which means many child-friendly foods, like granola bars, might not be giving your child as much fiber as your think. The best dietary sources include whole foods like fruits and vegetable, legumes and beans, breads and some cereals. And remember, for much produce, the most fiber is in the skin so don’t peel those apples!
You could also include a powdered fiber supplement in your child’s diet, or mix some flax seed meal into yogurt and other foods for an extra boost.
Wondering about other nutrients for children? For optimal health support, shop our selection of natural children’s multivitamins, or consider adding a probiotic or omega fatty acid supplement to your child’s diet.
What other supplements do you give to your children? Give us your recommendations in the comments section!
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