Most Common Childhood Nutrient Deficiencies Part 1

Getting children to eat a balanced and healthy diet can often be extremely challenging. Sometimes even getting your child to eat can be the challenge. Nutrient deficiencies can occur for a variety of reasons e.g. weak digestion, malabsorption issues, nutrient deficient soils in which our fruits and vegetables are grown to name just a few.

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In the next couple of blogs I will explore the four most common childhood nutrient deficiencies, explain some of their roles in our body, describe some possible deficiency signs and symptoms to look out for and provide a list of foods where they can be found.

Let’s start by looking at Zinc and Magnesium.    


One of the most common nutrient deficiencies in children is zinc. Zinc is an essential trace mineral that activates over 200 different enzymes in the body. Of the many roles zinc plays, it facilitates normal growth and development, maintains healthy brain development and function, helps the absorption of B vitamins, promotes a healthy immune function, supports wound healthy, has antiviral activity, reduces lactic acid in overworked muscles, plays a role in sexual development, supports insulin synthesis and action and is required for a healthy gut barrier. Zinc is closely related to protein intake.

Signs and symptoms of zinc deficiency in children can include picky eating and loss of appetite (zinc directly stimulates the appetite and food intake), impaired growth with low weight/height, persistent diaper rash, eczema, dry skin, poor wound healing, poor immunity, learning disorders, anxiety, OCD, irritability, auditory processing difficulty/sensitivity, tactile sensitivity, loss of taste and smell, chronic diarrhoea, poor memory, attention/focus issues, depression, sleep problems, thinning hair, white spots on fingernails or Beau’s line on fingernails (can also be attributed to other causes as well).

The good news is zinc can be found in an array of common foods. Most notably zinc is high in pumpkin, sunflower & sesame seeds, beans, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, spinach, grass-fed beef, organic poultry, lamb, seafood, eggs, dairy products, as well as liver and oysters (if you can get your child to eat them!).


Try making seeded fruit bars with or without oats.  Perfect for breakfasts on the run or school lunches as they are nut free.


Magnesium is another mineral that is commonly deficient in children.  Magnesium is a mineral that is needed in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, 70% of which is stored in the bones and teeth. Magnesium regulates smooth muscle relaxation so is implicated in constipation, as well as asthma. It supports healthy mood, focus and sleep.  Magnesium also regulates blood sugar, improves insulin sensitivity, muscle contractions, neuromuscular transmission and bone structure. It assists with regulation of calcium and potassium.  In addition to all this, Magnesium is a beneficial for the cardiovascular system where it assists in the maintenance of the heart muscle and acts as a vasodilator of blood vessels so can lower blood pressure.

Signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency in children can include constipation, asthma, anxiety, agitation and/or irritability, behavioural and sleep disturbances, talkativeness, headaches, pronounced startle response, tremors, muscle cramps and weakness, fatigue, seizures and cardiac arrhythmias.   

Like zinc, magnesium can also be found in an array common foods including pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, cocoa and dark chocolate, almonds, cashews, figs, avocados, bananas, wholegrains like oats, quinoa, brown rice and millet, kelp, eggs, spinach, swiss chard, soy beans, black beans, lima beans and navy beans and molasses. 


Try swapping out processed cereals for a homemade oat muesli with added nuts and seeds from the list above, as well as coconut flakes and sultanas or dried figs.  You could even add some raw cocoa for a more chocolatey spin.  Make a big batch by simply mixing it all together and store in an airtight container. Couple with a daily sliced fresh banana for another magnesium hit.  Voila!  Breakfast sorted!  Can be eaten as a cold cereal in the warmer months or as a warm porridge in the cooler months.  Better on the wallet and better on the body! 

If you suspect your child is deficient in any vitamin or mineral, it is important to get further advice to confirm a diagnosis and a specific treatment that is appropriate to you.

Join me for my next blog where I explore the next two most common childhood nutrient deficiencies.    

 xx Malia xx

More To Explore


Getting Your Child To Take Supplements

Supplements and herbs can have amazing benefits but only if they are taken in the doses prescribed. This is not always easy when children are involved. Things such as taste and texture can have a huge affect on whether a child will agree to take their supplements. This means as parents we may need to get a bit creative and look for imaginative ways of disguising these supplements. Below are some handy tips to have up your sleeve when you find yourself in this position.

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Most Common Childhood Nutrient Deficiencies Part 2

In part 1 of this 2 part blog we explored two of the four most common childhood nutritional deficiencies, Zinc & Magnesium, and looked at some of their amazing roles in our body, described some possible deficiency signs and symptoms, and provided a list of foods where they can be found in higher amounts. Here we continue our exploration by delving into the next two most common childhood deficiencies – Iron and Vitamin D.

Read More »

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