Let’s look first at iron as this is by far the number 1 nutritional deficiency in children. Iron is an essential component of haemoglobin – the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs around the body so that it gets where it needs to be. Without enough iron, the body cannot make haemoglobin and therefore fewer red blood cells are made. The end result being that tissues and organs don’t get the oxygen they need. In addition to its role in hameoglobin synthesis and oxygen transport iron also facilitates immune resistance, it is a key element in respiration, skin and nail formation, synthesis of neurotransmitters and DNA to name a few more. Heme iron is more bioavailable and better absorbed by the body and is found in meat, poultry and fish. Non-heme iron is less bio-available and is found in fruits, vegetables and iron fortified foods. Interestingly however, the absorption of non-heme (plant-based) iron increases as the body’s iron status decreases. 20-30% of total body iron is in the form of storage proteins – ferritin and hemosiderin.
Some of the signs and symptoms of an iron deficiency may include anaemia (microcytic hypochromic), weakness, fatigue, dizziness, breathing difficulties and/or breathlessness, irritability, mood changes, poor concentration, focus and attention, headaches, heart palpitations on exertion, poor appetite, poor immunity, cold intolerance, restless legs, pale skin (sclera, buccal mucosa), dark circles under the eyes, spoon nails (koilonychia), glossitis, angular cheilitis/stomatitis, constipation, deficiency in cognitive behaviour, developmental delays in infants (irreversible), poor feeding, pica, heavy menstrual periods and frequent nosebleeds. Parents of children on a high cow’s milk/dairy diet need to pay particular attention as dairy can displace iron. Similarly, parents of vegan or vegetarian children also need to pay particular attention to their child’s iron status as bioavailable iron is primarily found in meat, fish and poultry.
Although iron is primarily found in meat (especially liver and organ meat), fish and poultry, other good vegetarian sources include dark chocolate (yum!), lentils, soybeans, chickpeas, beans (lima, navy, kidney, black, pinto), pumpkin and sunflower seeds, almonds, apricots, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, brussel sprout, avocados, blackstrap molasses, parsley, turmeric and cumin.
TIPS FOR INCREASING PLANT-BASED IRON
Try making a mild vegetarian curry with your choice of lentils, chickpeas or beans, some leafy greens, broccoli and other vegetables that your family enjoy. Alternatively, try making nut and/or seed balls made with apricots and blackstrap molasses.
Vitamin D has certainly gained a lot of attention in recent years. It seems most people are aware of at least 1 thing that vitamin D is good for – bones. But as a fat-soluble vitamin and a hormone precursor to steroid hormones, vitamin D plays many roles within on our body. In addition to being essential for the maintenance of bone and teeth mineralisation through the regulation of calcium and phosphorus homeostasis and for normal bone development and maintenance, vitamin D also regulates the immune system (so important these days!), promotes calcium absorption in the gut, modulates cellular proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis, reduces inflammation, contributes to heart and muscle action, affects brain function and development and contributes to mood by modulating neurotransmitter release.
Some of the signs of a vitamin D deficiency and factors that increase the demand of vitamin D include pregnancy, exclusively breastfed infant in a vitamin D deficient mother, frequent illness and low immune system, autoimmune disease, frequent bone fractures, dental caries, food allergies, atopic eczema, asthma, attention and focus issues, ADHD, anxiety, depression, OCD, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, people with dark-skin, hypoparathyroidism, insulin dependent diabetes, intestinal disorders, kidney, pancreas and liver disorders, multiple sclerosis, lack of exposure to sunlight (through avoidance, overuse of sunscreen, clothing that conceals the body and/or environmental conditions such as geographical locations and season), veganism and vegetarianism, as well as use of some medications. Severe deficiency is related to rickets (in children), osteomalacia (in adults) and muscle pain and weakness. There are no specific physical exams finding relating to Vitamin D (unless rickets is obvious in children).
Since vitamin D is synthesised by the action of sunlight on the skin, the best source of vitamin D is good old sunshine! For fair to medium skinned people, 15-20 minutes out in the beautiful sunshine around midday should suffice. People with dark skin however will require more.
Food sources of vitamin D are limited but do include cod liver oil, halibut, herring, tuna, sardines, salmon, mackerel and other fatty fish, butter, milk, egg yolk, sprouted seeds and mushrooms.
TIPS FOR INCREASING VITAMIN D
Before you slip, slop, slap (sorry for those of you not in Australia whom the reference is lost on), let your children spend 15-20 minutes playing sans sunscreen 2-3 times per week. In the wintertime however, supplementation will most likely be required depending on where you live and your lifestyle.
So there you have it, the 4 most common childhood deficiencies – Zinc, Magnesium, Iron and Vitamin D. 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.
xx Malia xx