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Nutrition for Kids

Should kids eat like adults?

The simple answer to this is yes, children need the same types of things from their food that adults need – they need nutrients like protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals.

However, children need different amounts of specific nutrients at different ages to support the growth and development that is occurring at this stage of life.

What an individual eats as a child can determine their health later in life if they do not get proper nutrition for growth and development, additionally, a child’s diet in early life can shape their food habits as they age, which can also play a role in how healthy they will be in their adult years (1).

The problem facing the health of kids today

Children today are facing a new set of challenges that we did not deal with even just a few decades back, or at least at the level that our children are dealing with today.

Here in the U.S., many of us live in obesogenic environments, which means that we are surrounded by things that encourage weight gain and make eating healthy difficult.

Most Americans, including our children, are eating The Standard American Diet. This way of eating focuses on energy-dense, nutrient-deficient, convenience foods out of a box or bag with a long list of ingredients.

Additionally, this eating pattern contains food additives that promote weight gain and can create dysfunction in the body, like MSG, and added sugar, salt, and fat. These foods are readily available and are highly marketed to children here in the U.S. (2).

What nutrients do kids need?

As most American children consume The Standard American Diet today, they can lack the nutrients that they need to grow and develop properly.

Here are a few nutrients lacking in our children today, according to research.

An investigation of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2016 data found that U.S. children aged 1-6 years were deficient in nutrients like calcium, iron, vitamin B6, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), among others (3).

A calcium deficiency can be caused by a lack of calcium in the diet or a deficiency of other nutrients like vitamin D which is necessary for calcium to be absorbed into the body (4).

When children are deficient in calcium they can experience stunted growth, and weak bones, teeth, and muscles, because calcium is a structural component and helps to keep tissue strong and flexible (6). The process of bone formation begins during embryonic development before the child is born, and continues until about 25 years of age for the individual (7). So, for our children to have strong, healthy bones in their adult years, they must develop them during their youth and their diet plays a key role in this development.

Dairy products like yogurt (with no added sugar), and hard cheeses are excellent sources of calcium, but dark leafy greens like kale, broccoli, and collards, and almonds, sesame seeds, white beans, and prunes also contain calcium that will help to build healthy teeth and bones (5).

Iron deficiency has three main causes in children today, according to the Cleveland Clinic, a diet that is deficient in iron sources, an inability to absorb the iron from the food they eat, and parasites like hookworm (8).

Iron is necessary for red blood cell development and red blood cells carry oxygen to every cell in the body. When iron is deficient in the diet, the child can become anemic which will affect proper growth, and puts the child at greater risk for infections and behavior problems (8) (9).

Good food sources of iron include baked beans, cooked spinach, lentils, pumpkin seeds, beef, egg yolks, and frozen blueberries.

A vitamin B6 deficiency can be caused by certain conditions in the body like insulin resistance, blood sugar problems, and organ dysfunction like irritable bowel syndrome and liver issues, and medications like antibiotics and cortisol (steroids) can negatively impact B6 levels in the body (10).

Vitamin B6 plays a role in over 100 enzyme reactions in the body and is involved in vital functions like metabolism, brain development in utero and throughout infancy, neurotransmitter syntheses like GABA and serotonin, blood cell formation, and immune function (10) (11).

Good food sources of vitamin B6 include fish, eggs, beef, chickpeas, rice, potatoes, sunflower seeds, avocado, tomatoes, and green peas.

An omega-3 DHA fatty acid deficiency can be caused by not consuming foods that contain this essential nutrient, or a problem with fat metabolism in the body (12).

As a structural part of every cell in the body, omega-3 DHA fatty acid plays a vital role in body organs like the brain and retina of the eye and is crucial during fetal development and infancy (13).

Good food sources of DHA include seafood like salmon, tuna, cod, and trout, as well as eggs.

A varied, whole-food diet is best and is necessary for proper growth

Proper growth and development are dependent upon the nutrients that an individual receives during this phase of life, as I hope you were able to see from our brief discussion of the four essential nutrients that tend to be deficient in children today.

When children fill up on energy-dense, nutrient-deficient foods, typical of the SAD, they tend to be deficient in many of these essential, developmental nutrients which can lead to poor growth and development that follows them into their adult years.

Interested in learning a bit more about the nutrients that our children need for proper growth, development, and to be healthy? Get a copy of my free e-book “30 Key Nutrients” here.

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