Although deficiencies are quite rare for children in western, industrialised nations, they risk they represent should not be underestimated. How do these deficiencies arise, and what can be done to prevent or even treat them?
Malnutrition means that the organism doesn’t receive sufficient amounts of certain nutrients. The consequence of such a shortcoming is that the body and its cells, organs and tissues will cease to function properly. Natural sequences will be interrupted and can lead to a wide variety of illnesses affecting vital organs and tissue. The essential nutrients that need to be supplied in adequate amounts include carbohydrates, fats, proteins, fibers, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and electrolytes. These nutritional elements need to be ingested by the human body on a regular basis, as they are needed as building blocks and energy suppliers.
How does a mineral deficiency come about?
Normally, a balanced nutrition should suffice to supply the body with the required minerals. A one-sided diet on the other hand, for example through the excessive consumption of ready meals, can potentially lead to iron or iodine deficiencies. There are also certain periods in life where there is an increased requirement of nutrients, especially during the growth phases from baby to adolescent.
When children voice an unusual appetite for unusual foods (for example celery), this could be a first sign of an encroaching deficiency. Through a lack of iron in the blood, children are more agitated, nervous and inattentive, seriously affecting learning performance at school or in the kindergarten. Observing any such symptoms, parents should immediately act. During growth spurts there is a particularly strong demand for iron, especially when dealing with the additional requirement of academic learning. 25g of sugar beet molasses on a slice of whole grain bread can for example cover up to 50% of the daily recommended amount. Iron deficiency is much more common than most people would think and needs to be taken seriously since it can have serious long term consequences (fatigue, dizziness, headaches or gastrointestinal issues). Overweight children are particularly at a risk of developing iron deficiency related anaemia. Since anaemia leads to fatigue, and thus even less calorie burning, this can easily turn into a hard to break vicious cycle.
A consequence of a lack of iodine is the growth of the thyroid, in order to better process the smaller amount available in the body. This can potentially lead to the development of a clot. This in turn can exert pressure on the larynges, the oesophagus and windpipe, leading to problems swallowing and short breath. If the deficiency is sustained over longer periods, this can then lead to a hyperthyroidism. The symptoms of this are fatigue, poor concentration and inertia.
Vitamin D deficiency:
Ensuring sufficient vitamin D purely through the diet is tricky, as it’s naturally only present in few foods. The best sources are fatty fish, including herring, sardine, mackerel and salmon. To a lesser degree it can also be found in meat, milk and dairy products. For kids an adequate supply of vitamin D is very important, as a deficiency can lead to rickets: The bones remain too soft and start deforming. Yet another reason for parents to spend time out in the open with their children – the UV rays of the sun directly help in preventing such a deficiency.
Special case: Vegan
Kids raised as vegans are at a particular risk of developing iron deficiencies. The iron requirement in the first two years of life are particularly high. Infants and toddlers should therefore not really be raised as vegans in this period. The vitamin and mineral supply in general is reduced in children brought up as vegetarians or breast fed by a vegetarian mother. These infants in particular are at risk of not receiving enough vitamin B12, starting their life with insufficient reserves. With complete meat abstinence, two-year olds often show vitamin B-12 deficiency symptoms, including retarded neurological development. The omission of milk and milk products further leads to an undersupply of calcium.