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  • Writer's pictureTy Bailey

Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Children

When it comes to kids, most parents and caregivers find themselves worrying about meeting the dietary needs of those who are overly picky and those who may have food allergies or other health concerns impacting their diets. Although the likelihood of certain deficiencies will vary among each individual child, there are a few deficiencies that are the usual culprits in this age group.

What is a Nutritional Deficiency?

A nutritional deficiency is defined as "an inadequate supply of essential nutrients (as vitamins and minerals) in the diet resulting in malnutrition or disease."

When a person doesn't consume foods to meet their dietary needs, a deficiency in certain vitamins or minerals may occur. This may result from picky eating, food insecurity, or even certain health conditions that prevent the proper absorption of foods and their nutrients.

Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Children

When your child's diet is lacking certain nutrients, this can lead to a plethora of health issues as well as impact their physical and mental development. Although access to healthy foods is not always an option for all families and households, here are some of the most common deficiencies found in children if you're concerned that an imbalanced diet may be the root cause of any troubles your child may be experiencing.

Iron Deficiency

One of the most common deficiencies in all age groups is iron deficiency. Iron is responsible for transporting oxygen to the body's cells, so those who lack a sufficient amount of iron in their diet may experience symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, and impaired immune function. When an iron deficiency worsens and develops into anemia, your child may struggle with more serious symptoms like behavioral issues, impaired growth, cold hands and feet, fatigue, and more.

Some of the ways you can help add more iron to your child's diet include the following food options:

  • Beef

  • Beans

  • Leafy greens

  • Iron-fortified breads and cereals

  • Organ meats

  • Peas

  • Poultry

  • Pork

  • Tofu

  • Sardines

  • Seafood

It is also worth noting that animal-based sources of iron are more easily absorbed by the body than plant-based options. However, providing as much balance in your child's diet as possible should be just as effective for those who choose not to consume animal products.

Calcium Deficiency

Calcium is important for helping a child grow strong and healthy bones, but it also plays a significant role in nervous system health, muscles, and one's overall heart health. Most individuals with a calcium deficiency don't experience significant symptoms at first, but having regular muscle cramps, dry skin or hair, and nails that tend to break easily are some good warning signs.

If a calcium deficiency is left untreated or is significantly worsened by other conditions (such as in those who have problems with their parathyroid), the symptoms of a severe calcium deficiency may become dangerous, resulting in seizures, significant damage to tooth enamel, and serious conditions like rickets.

Some of the best sources of calcium to try to include in your child's diet consist of the following:

  • Cheeses

  • Almonds

  • Lentils

  • Beans

  • Leafy greens

  • Milk

  • Seeds (poppy, chia, sesame)

  • Rhubarb

  • Yogurt

  • Tofu

  • Salmon

  • Sardines

  • Whey protein

  • Calcium-fortified foods

Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D is required for the proper absorption of both phosphorus and calcium. Without a sufficient amount of vitamin D in your child's diet, they are much more likely to experience a calcium deficiency along with lacking vitamin D itself. Aside from helping with absorption, vitamin D has also been shown to help with inflammation and infections and reduce the growth of cancer cells.

If your child is low on vitamin D, they may display symptoms of a calcium deficiency along with muscle cramps, bone pain, excessive tiredness, and even symptoms of depression.

One of the best ways to boost your child's levels of vitamin D is to allow them plenty of time to play outdoors in the sun. Be careful to avoid sunburn, dehydration, and overheating; but otherwise, getting at least 10 to 30 minutes of sun exposure multiple days per week provides a great way to naturally get those vitamin D levels up.

To take a dietary approach in resolving a vitamin D deficiency, the following foods are some great options:

  • Mushrooms

  • Egg yolks

  • Salmon

  • Sardines

  • Vitamin D-fortified juices, beverages, and cereals

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12 is necessary for the body to form red blood cells. It also plays a part in DNA formation and nerve function, making it quite important in the overall scheme of maintaining your health and bodily functions. For little ones, it's even more essential for ensuring proper brain development. When a child experiences a vitamin B12 deficiency, they may have delays in growth and development, and they may also have difficulties with appetite, irritability, and overall weakness in their body.

If your child experiences regular gastrointestinal issues, redness of the lining of their mouth, decreased appetite and energy levels, or unusual weight loss, a vitamin B12 deficiency may be to blame.

Here are some of the best food sources of vitamin B12 to try to include in their diet:

  • Beef

  • Clams

  • Eggs

  • Milk

  • Liver

  • Fortified cereals

  • Tuna

  • Salmon

  • Yogurt

Potassium Deficiency

A potassium deficiency occurring by itself isn't particularly common, but when a child experiences a significant imbalance of their electrolytes due to diarrhea, vomiting, or excessive sweating, potassium is one of the most important minerals that needs to be replenished.

Potassium is responsible for maintaining the appropriate fluid levels within the body's cells, also impacting blood pressure and regulating nerve signals and muscle contractions. When there is a deficiency of this mineral, your child may experience fatigue, constipation, and muscle weakness. In severe case, symptoms can include arrthymias, breathing difficulties, and muscle paralysis.

Some of the foods you can try to include in your child's diet (especially after they've been sick with vomiting or diarrhea and at a higher risk of experiencing low potassium levels) are:

  • Avocados

  • Beans

  • Butternut squash

  • Coconut water

  • Fish

  • Potatoes

  • Pomegranate

  • Spinach

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Tomato paste

  • Watermelon

  • And more!

Iodine Deficiency

Iodine is a mineral responsible for regulating a person's thyroid function. The thyroid affects everything from your bones to metabolism, brain development, and physical growth. One of the first signs of an iodine deficiency is goiter, which will look like a large lump in your child's neck as their thyroid swells. Other symptoms of an iodine deficiency include fatigue, weight gain, flaky and dry skin, difficulty remembering things or learning, and more.

One of the easiest ways to add iodine to your child's diet is by using common table salts labeled as "iodized." However, there are other foods you can try to add to your family's menu to prevent an iodine deficiency, too. These include:

  • Chicken

  • Dairy products

  • Eggs

  • Fish (cod, tuna)

  • Fortified formula

  • Lima beans

  • Seaweed

  • Shellfish (shrimp)

  • Prunes

Zinc Deficiency

If your child is prone to catching illnesses like the flu or colds often, it's very likely that they may be struggling with a zinc deficiency. Children with zinc deficiencies may experience a variety of symptoms, among these being difficulty paying attention or remembering things, learning disabilities and other related disorders, allergies or poor immunity, and slow wound healing.

Zinc is an important mineral in ensuring your child's overall health and development, so here are some of the foods you can try to include in their diet to make sure your child is receiving enough:

  • Beans

  • Eggs

  • Dairy products

  • Dark chocolate

  • Fish (sardines)

  • Mushrooms

  • Nuts

  • Lobster

  • Oysters

  • Red meat

  • Peanuts

  • Poultry

  • Pumpkin seeds

  • Seeds

  • Seafood

  • Whole grains

Inadequate Fiber Intake

Lastly, not including enough fiber in your child's diet may lead to a number of gastrointestinal issues. This commonly results in a child regularly experiencing constipation, but it may also lead to diarrhea in the case of significant imbalances of healthy gut bacteria.

Some of the following are kid favorites that can easily get some more fiber into your child's diet:

  • Apples

  • Carrots

  • Bananas

  • Oatmeal

  • Berries

  • Pears

  • Popcorn

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Whole-grain bread or pasta

Seeking Help for Deficiencies

At Tired Mama Resources, we're here to help provide as much information as possible to parents and caregivers that have questions about their child's health and wellbeing. However, although we try our best to cite credible sources for the information provided, the information on our website should not be substituted for seeking medical care or treatment for a child experiencing illness or unusual symptoms. There are also many medical conditions that contribute to various deficiencies, and not all dietary changes will be effective for all individuals struggling with a deficiency.

If you suspect that your child may have a nutritional deficiency, please speak with your child's pediatrician for further guidance.

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