As parents we are inundated with information of nutrition. With such information overload we often accept information as gospel without even knowing what each idea means. For instance, we constantly talk about vitamins and minerals as essentials to maintain a child’s health. But what are these mysterious vitamins and minerals that we need to deliver to our little ones?
Vitamins, minerals and why we need them
Vitamins are organic compounds, required for various metabolic processes in our body. They are essential catalysts in cellular chemical reactions that keep our bodies ticking, our cells dividing and neurons firing.
Similarly, minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, potassium are chemical compounds that result from inorganic processes in nature. They are required to form integral structures in our body or are part of our physiological processes. For instance, calcium is essential for bone formation, iron for blood, copper as a coenzyme and potassium plays a crucial role in nerve transmission.
Does my child get enough?
We all like to think that our child is well fed. After all we try and offer variety, choose from fresh ingredients and consult everything from food pyramids to astrology charts for our little one’s health. With the best variety of fruits, vegetables, cereals surely, we’re acing this. However, could it be otherwise?
Various studies have been conducted around the world, to see whether the nutrient intake of the children is up to the mark or not. How do we know what is enough? Well, there are standards by the concerned authorities in various countries which help establish guidelines on the amount of nutrients we need daily to stay healthy. These are called RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) or AI (Adequate Intake).
In a study (PMCID: PMC5037526) in U.K. it was found that the children who were on YCF (young children formula which is supplemented) or nutrient supplements were the ones who achieved their nutrient target against children who were not consuming supplements in any form. These children were as young as 12-18 months. While the debate continues, supplementation has been seen to impact nutritional requirements positively across the globe.
Is my child too young for supplements?
Honestly, there is no such thing. Babies are often supplemented right after birth with basics such as iron or Vitamin D to ensure they get the essentials they need at the start of life. Pediatricians may not advice supplements to each and every child for every nutrient but it is widely acknowledged that giving a nutrient supplement to a child will not do any harm, if it is not over the recommended dietary allowance. This is especially true for the nutrients not easily derived from diet. Essentials like vitamin D, B12 or iron are often found lacking in our daily diets. Specially if the child is picky and not eating well, they may develop deficiencies.
WHO also recommends vitamins and minerals especially Vitamin A and iron (its deficiency is prevalent in India) for children as young as 6 months. Vitamin A and iron needs to be supplemented in children from one year to twelve years of age in children who are prone to deficiencies.
The caveat of course is supplements are never substitute for a healthy, wholesome diet. Which is why they called supplements. They are meant to add to or bolster our diet, playing a supporting role. In the crucial first ten to twelve years of the child’s growing years, for parents the key lies in offering a wide and adventurous variety of foods, of celebrating taste and health while ensuring that no essential nutrients are lacking right when the child needs them most, to grow to their highest potential.