Nutrition essentials
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How to ensure your toddler has enough vitamin D

How to ensure your toddler has enough vitamin D

Key points

  • Vitamin D is an essential ingredient for a developing immune system, normal bones and muscle function
  • Vitamin D is obtained through the direct action of sunlight on the skin and through limited foods
  • A combination of nutrition and safe time in the sun is recommended for toddlers to get their share of vitamin D

When it comes to healthy kids, the right nutritional balance is essential. A big part of this balance is getting the right vitamins. Most of the essential vitamins your child needs for their development are naturally abundant in foods, except one: vitamin D. While a few foods do contain vitamin D, it’s primarily generated by the body in response to time in the sun.

But too much time in the sun is not safe for a young child’s sensitive skin so it can be difficult to ensure your child sees a sensible share of rays.

So how can you ensure your child is getting enough vitamin D, which is an essential ingredient for a developing immune system, normal bones and muscle function?

Here are a few ways to help your toddler strike the right vitamin D balance. But before we jump in, let’s find out more about the sunshine vitamin.

What is vitamin D, and what does it do?

Typically, 90% of vitamin D is obtained by the action of sunlight on the skin (90%). The remainder is obtained through food, particularly through dairy products, eggs and fish. It is almost impossible to achieve adequate vitamin D status through diet alone and therefore some sun exposure is important.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it’s stored in fat tissue for later use if the body gets more than it needs.

Vitamin D is vital for your child’s healthy development. It helps make strong bones and healthy teeth as they grow and strengthen at a rapid rate.

Vitamin D also plays a role in maintaining the immune system, assists in normal muscle function and helps maintain healthy levels of calcium within the blood.

Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with higher prevalence of allergic disease. It’s important to ensure you are getting enough vitamin D in pregnancy to avoid your toddler having low vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D deficiency

Not getting enough vitamin D can increase your toddler’s risk of health issues. Significantly low levels of vitamin D for a prolonged period can result in rickets, a condition that leads to soft, poorly formed bones.

Skin pigmentation can be a barrier to not getting enough vitamin D. Simply, people who have skin with darker pigment need more time in the sun to generate the vitamin than those with fairer skin. So, keep this in mind if your toddler has dark skin and their background is Maori, Pacific, Aboriginal, Asian, African or Middle Eastern.

Getting sun, smartly

UVB rays, which trigger the synthesis of vitamin D, are blocked by glass, so opening the curtains to flood your home with light won’t do the trick. To get vitamin D, your child needs direct exposure to sunlight on the skin.

It’s best to spend time outdoors in the sunshine on a regular basis. Allow sunlight on the face, arms and hands of your little one for limited times during the day and never get sunburnt.

Stick to these short intervals and be sun smart: use sunscreen at the times of the day when the sun is at its strongest. Sunscreen will limit vitamin D intake, so it’s a little bit of a juggling act to strike the right balance between getting those rays and being safe. A little common sense and care will go a long way.

Foods rich in vitamin D

Vitamin D can be found in a limited amount of foods, including salmon, dairy products and eggs. But only oily fish contains significant amounts. The catch is it’s recommended that toddlers have no more than 2-3 servings of these kinds of fish per week due to the mercury content of some fish.

Keep an eye out for foods fortified with vitamin D, including some margarines and toddler milk drinks. To keep mealtimes interesting, here are some small meal and snack ideas to boost your toddler’s food intake of vitamin D:

  • Salmon on toast triangles
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Breakfast cereal with toddler milk
  • Tuna pasta bake
  • Omelette with tomato and melted cheese

Speak to your healthcare professional if you’re worried your toddler is not getting enough vitamin D.

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