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An overview of nutritional support for healthy growth and development in children

Infant and Children, Teenages | August 11, 2021 | Author: Naturopath

Children, infants

An overview of nutritional support for healthy growth and development in children

Providing the best nutrition is an important consideration for the healthy growth and development of children. Whilst the best source of vitamins, minerals and protein, carbohydrates, fats and phytonutrients should come from the diet, it can still be challenging for parents and caregivers to meet optimal nutritional needs. This can be due to busy lifestyles, poor food quality, health concerns such as malabsorption syndromes, abnormal diets and fussy eaters. With some nutrients, such as iodine and vitamin D, it can be difficult to reach adequate requirements through diet alone.

Are they getting enough nutrients from the diet for proper development?

Some important nutrient to consider supplementing include calcium, vitamin D, zinc, iron, iodine and fish oil. In some cases, a good multivitamin and mineral combination can help with upping the levels of nutrients, especially the trace minerals. Other nutrients can help provide immune support when needed such as vitamin C and probiotics.

Why some nutrients are important for health, growth and development

Calcium

Calcium is required strong bones, muscle action, nerve conductivity and heart health.

In fact, there is more calcium in the body than any other mineral. For the skeleton to growth, bones must break down and remodel into bigger bone – this is a continuing cycle which requires a great amount of nutrition. Calcium can easily be provided in the diet through calcium-rich foods such as dairy-based product (milk, yoghurt, cheese, etc) soy (milk and tofu), almonds, seafoods, leafy-green vegetables and calcium fortified foods. Supplement with a calcium complex which contains other minerals needed and vitamin D if diet alone is insufficient.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is needed for skeletal development. It is the key hormone in the regulation of the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus and is most important during the paediatric years for healthy bone and teeth development.

Deficiency of vitamin D is linked to infection, autoimmunity, asthma and allergies.

Vitamin D can be obtained in summer by exposure to sunlight (which we try to avoid due to risk of skin damage), and from a limited diet source. There are a few foods which provide notable amounts of vitamin D – fatty fish (sardines, salmon, herring and mackerel for example); egg, milk and meat and margarine. Some foods are fortified with vitamin D (added), such as cereals. Breast milk can provide vitamin D for breastfed babies.

Evidence has shown that vitamin D supplementation can reduce rates of infection in paediatrics and growing evidence supporting a beneficial role in preventing autoimmune disorders.

Zinc

Zinc plays a critical role in biological processes – which include growth and metabolism. Zinc deficiency is rare although mild to moderate deficiency can commonly occur especially if the diet is low in zinc-rich foods (red meat, organ meats, chicken, oysters, fish) and high in phytates (compounds in grains, legumes, nuts and seeds) which can inhibit the absorption of zinc (although they too contain zinc).

Zinc deficiency is associated with frequent infections (such as the common cold), poor wound healing, diarrhoea and stunted growth.

Iron for super-childen

Iron is required for growth and function of every cell and organ in the body – including brain and the immune system. It is needed for the development of the nerve pathways and improves short-term and long-term cognitive function.  Most importantly, for red blood cell formation and the delivery of oxygen. 

Deficiency of iron is common in children which can have an effect on immunity and neurodevelopment (the brain’s development of neurological pathways that influence performance and functioning).

Early childhood is a period of rapid growth and iron stores obtained from foetal development can quickly decline as infants grow during pregnancy. By 6 months of age foods from the diet need to provide iron.

Foods providing iron 

Best sources of iron come from animal-based foods known as haem iron. These include:

  • Meat -  (beef, lamb, veal, pork, kangaroo, poultry). The redder the meat, the higher it is in iron. Offal (liver, kidney, pate)
  • Fish and shellfish (salmon, sardines, tuna)
  • Eggs

Plant-based sources (non-haem iron)

  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit
  • Whole grains such as oats
  • Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas)
  • Dark leafy green vegetables (spinach, silver beet, broccoli)
  • Tofu

Many foods are fortified with iron such as bread and breakfast cereal. Supplementation of iron should only be on the advice of a health professional.

Iodine

Despite Australia being surrounded by water, our source of iodine from soil is poor and cooking can cause loses. Iodine is a component of the thyroid hormone, thyroxine, which is required for normal growth, metabolism and energy production. Severe deficiency of iodine can impair mental and physical development and lead to goitre or hypothyroidism. Iodine can be sourced from fish (such as cod and tuna), seaweed, prawns, oysters and fish. Milk products and eggs also provide some iodine. Some foods have added iodine such as iodized salt and bread. Iodine can be supplemented separately and is can be found in multivitamins, but like too little, too much can cause problems. Check with your health care provider before supplementing.

Essential fatty acids

Essential fatty acids – omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are important nutrients for physiological and biochemical function in metabolism health. DHA has a key role in the development and function of the central nervous system and retina of the eye, especially in the early stage of life. Fish Omega 3 has been shown to improve cognitive function, vison acuity, cardiac function and immunity (protecting against allergies). Omega 3 fatty acid is most abundant in seafood (fatty fish - sardines, salmon, shellfish), and micro and macro algae. Supplementation is suggested if dietary intake is insufficient.

‚ÄčImmune supportImmune support

Due to rapid growth, nutrients can easily become  depleted which can affect the immune system and result in recurrent infections or poor recovery from sickness. Vitamin C, zinc, vitamin D and probiotics can help with building a robust immune system. 

Vitamin C

As an immune system support, vitamin C can help with recurrent respiratory infections. But vitamin C is involved in many other functions in the developing child's body. It is essential for collagen synthesis (collagen is the building block of connective tissue); many enzymatic reactions in the body require vitamin C, it modulates central nervous system functions and is an antioxidant. Vitamin C has a neuromodulatory action, along with its antioxidant properties, can be beneficial for children suffering with depression.

Fresh fruits and vegetables provide good sources of vitamin C, although being a water-soluble vitamin, it is easily destroyed by light, oxygen and heat.

Probiotics

Probiotics help with gut and immune functions – especially those related to allergies, eczema, asthma, diarrhea and constipation. The human microbiome is home to a multitude of organisms such as fungi, yeasts and bacteria which generally reside without doing harm, but in some instances imbalances can occur.  Digestive health and immunity can be supported through intake of “good bacteria” from foods such as yoghurt (containing life bacteria), kefir, tempeh and fermented foods (kimchi, sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables), or from supplementation.

A well-balanced diet

A well-balanced diet should include dairy or dairy alternatives, a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and protein foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and legumes including beans and lentils. 

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References

Appropriate and inappropriate vitamin supplementation in children https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7288613/

Calcium Intake and Health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6683260/

https://www.msdmanuals.com/en-au/home/children-s-health-issues/bone-disorders-in-children/overview-of-bone-disorders-in-children

Vitamin D and Immunity in Infants and Children https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7282029/

https://www.nutritioncouncilaustralia.com.au/best-sources-of-vitamin-d/

Vitamin D in childhood and adolescence: an expert position statement https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25833762/

The good, the bad, and the ugly of calcium supplementation: a review of calcium intake on human health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6276611/

Zinc supplementation and growth in children https://www.who.int/elena/bbc/zinc_stunting/en/

https://ods.od.nih.gov/pdf/factsheets/Zinc-Consumer.pdf

https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/foods-high-in-iron

The Benefits and Risks of Iron Supplementation in Pregnancy and Childhood https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7173188/

Iron and Cognitive Development: What Is the Evidence? https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/480742

https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/iodine

Prenatal Fish Oil Supplementation and Early Childhood Development in the Upstate KIDS Study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5588657/

IN TIME: IMPORTANCE OF OMEGA 3 IN CHILDREN’S NUTRITION https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5417803/

Probiotics’ efficacy in paediatric diseases: which is the evidence? A critical review on behalf of the Italian Society of Pediatrics https://ijponline.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13052-020-00862-z

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