Essential nutrients for your child, and some of their best sources
- Children should receive their vitamins and minerals from a varied diet of whole foods
- Iron is a critical nutrient to support brain and cognitive function
- Vitamin A, D and zinc are essential for immune system function
When it comes to nutrition, parents want to make sure their children are getting all the vitamins and minerals they need to support growing brains and bodies. In this piece, we’ll look at some of the essential nutritional building blocks that your little one needs to play, develop and enjoy childhood. As with all nutrition-related matters, the best way to make sure your little one is getting their quota of essentials is through a varied diet of whole foods. If you need to help bridge the gap between what your child requires and what they’re actually eating, look for high quality, formulated supplementary milk drink like Aptamil Gold+ Toddler, which contains 16 essential vitamins and minerals including calcium, vitamin D, zinc, iron and iodine. It also contains Omega–3 DHA fatty acids and prebiotics.
In the first 5 years of life, the brain grows faster than at any other time. This early-life stage is critical for cognitive development, and iron plays a vital role in this. Beyond cognition, two thirds of the body’s iron makes up haemoglobin, an important protein that transports oxygen around the body – the process by which we produce energy. Additionally, iron is needed for the development of a healthy and functioning immune system. A severe deficiency in iron results in anaemia and – while it’s relatively uncommon in children – this is associated with fatigue and an impaired immune function. To ensure your little one is getting enough iron, try to feed them adequate amounts of red meat and chicken. Legumes such as lentils and green leafy vegetables are also good vegetarian sources of iron. It is important to note that vegetarian sources of iron are less absorbed by the body compared to animal sources, therefore it’s a good idea to have them with some vitamin C. For example, adding some lemon juice to spinach will enhance iron absorption.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that’s needed for healthy bones in children because it helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorous. A prolonged deficiency of vitamin D in children can result in rickets, a softening of the bones that can lead to delayed growth. Vitamin D is also used by the body to maintain functioning of the immune system. When it comes to making sure your toddler is getting their quota of vitamin D, the best way is via sensible exposure to sunlight. You can also get small amounts of vitamin D through food, including fortified margarines, oily fish and eggs.
Omega–3 is classed as an essential fatty acid, which means you need to consume it in your diet because your body cannot produce it itself. Omega–3 is converted into long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, including Omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) which have cardiovascular benefits. Omega–3 DHA, plays an important role as a structural membrane lipid in nerve tissue and the retina (part of the eye). Omega–3 can be found in things like canola oil, chia seeds, linseed, flaxseed and walnuts. The conversion efficiency of these Omega–3 sources is variable so it is a good idea to include other sources of Omega 3 DHA into your child’s diet such as salmon, tuna and mackerel. Don’t worry about getting fresh fish, tinned is fine. Or, you could cook up a salmon fillet, break it into small bits and freeze it for future meals. Remember to watch out for increased mercury levels when consuming particular species of fish. Refer to safe consumption guidelines.
When it comes to zinc, the main thing you should be looking out for is a potential deficiency in the diet. If your child is not getting enough zinc, they can develop an impaired immune response and have impaired growth.
It’s important to include a variety of zinc-rich foods in your child’s diet – including meat, fish, poultry and dairy products. It’s also worth noting that zinc from animal products is better absorbed than that of plant-based sources.