Despite the best efforts of parents to have their kids eat a well balanced diet, doctors are finding kids throughout the U.S. are frequently deficient in some of the most important nutrients. Nutritional deficiencies in kids are such a concern that the U.S. government has addressed the problem in their Dietary Guidelines for Americans by urging parents to focus on the five most serious nutritional deficiencies in kids today- calcium, fiber, magnesium, vitamin E and potassium.
Although kids get adequate amounts of calcium from the milk they drink during infancy, milk consumption begins to drop off after age two. This means that most older children don’t get enough of this important bone strengthening mineral. Calcium is especially vital to growing kids. It helps their bones to develop normally, assists in blood clotting and is essential for heart and muscle functioning. Although the best sources of calcium are dairy foods, calcium can also be found in spinach and other dark greens, broccoli, oranges and almonds. Aim to get your child to consume three servings of calcium rich foods each day. If you are faced with a dairy wary child, try substituting milk for water such as when making their morning oatmeal. Try to make calcium rich foods fun for kids and they will gobble them up. Cut cheese into fun shapes using mini cookie cutters. Have kids make their own yogurt parfaits with fruit and granola. Make a fun and refreshing smoothie. Try to serve milk or calcium fortified orange juice with meals.
Most adults do not get adequate amounts of fiber in their diet. Unfortunately, kids are following in their parents footsteps. Fiber is a common nutritional deficiency in kids. Kids need fiber to help keep their digestive system in tip top shape and prevent constipation. Fiber may also help prevent kids from developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity later in life. The best sources of fiber are whole foods: fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains. Serve fruits and vegetables with their skins on for maximum fiber. Add vegetables to every meal you can. Switch to whole wheat pastas, brown rice and whole grain bread. Swap out your child’s morning bowl of cereal for fiber laden oatmeal.
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body and one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in kids. Magnesium is essential for proper growth and functioning of the body. Unlike calcium and fiber, most parents don’t pay much attention to magnesium, but they should. Magnesium helps boost bone density, keeps muscles and nerves functioning properly, keeps heart rhythm steady, boosts the immune system, promotes normal blood pressure and blood sugar levels and keeps the metabolism going strong. In fact, magnesium is vital to over 300 bodily functions. Magnesium can be found in many foods but is most abundant in green vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, halibut, pollock or haddock.
Want to have a child with a rock solid immune system? Then don’t ignore vitamin E. Vitamin E is the immune system booster that is also a common nutritional deficiency in kids. In the body, vitamin E behaves as an antioxidant and is responsible for protecting body cells from being damaged by free radicals. The best sources of vitamin E are nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, wheat germ and green vegetables. For more information on antioxidants and free radicals see What are Free Radicals and Antioxidants?
Potassium is the little nutrient with a whole lot of muscle. Potassium is necessary for proper heart, kidney, muscle, nerve and digestive function as well as normal heart rhythm and blood pressure. Doctors have recently seen increasing numbers of kids with potassium deficiency even though every food contains potassium. Although studies are ongoing, some experts suspect potassium deficiency in kids may have to do with increased consumption of convenience and highly processed foods and a decrease in consumption of whole foods. Common causes of potassium deficiency in kids includes malnutrition, low magnesium levels, excessive sweating, vomiting or diarrhea. Adequate potassium is especially easy to get by eating fruits and vegetables and whole foods. Great sources of potassium include fruits (especially bananas), vegetables, meat (especially pork), dairy, seafood, beans and nuts.
Disclaimer: This article is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of a physician or other medical professionals.
National Institutes of Health