If your child’s diet consists mostly of fast food meals, processed and refined products, and soft drinks, then he or she may not be getting enough of 5 nutrients that play a necessary role in the proper growth and development of his or her body. The essential nutrients that could be lacking include: fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamin E, and/or calcium. An “essential nutrient” is a nutrient that your body needs to function properly, but can only be obtained from food sources. Essential nutrients cannot be synthesized (made) by the body and so an adequate diet must be consumed to prevent deficiency.
How do these nutrients effect the growth and development of your child?
Fiber: Plant-based foods are the only natural source of fiber. Fiber is needed to regulate digestion and to prevent constipation. It also plays a role in the management of cholesterol levels and in reducing your child’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease later in life. Whole grains (e.g., oatmeal, brown rice, bulgur/cracked wheat, etc.,), beans and legumes, nuts, seeds, and fruits and vegetables are all sources of fiber. Note, if your child’s current diet is lacking in fiber, you will want to introduce high-fiber foods gradually to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort. Start by offering a high-fiber snack after school, such as carrots and bean dip or by providing cooked whole oats at breakfast. Make sure your child drinks plenty of water as you increase the fiber in his or her diet.
Magnesium: Magnesium has many roles in the body. It fosters bone and teeth growth; maintains proper functioning of the heart, muscles, and the nervous and immune systems; and, it promotes energy production. If your child consumes a lot of processed foods, he or she could be deficient in magnesium, because most of this nutrient is removed during processing. Dark green vegetables (e.g., spinach), almonds, pumpkin seeds, whole wheat, and milk can provide your child with magnesium.
Potassium: Potassium maintains fluid and mineral balance in the body. In addition, it promotes strong bones, plays a role in energy production, regulates heart and muscle function, and aids in the transmission of nerve signals (impulses). Some food sources that contain potassium include bananas, avocados, lima beans, and cantaloupe.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that provides protection against free radicals which can cause damage to cell membranes. Your child needs adequate amounts of vitamin E to build a strong immune system. Good food sources for this essential vitamin include: wheat germ, sunflower seeds, almonds, and filberts.
Calcium: Commonly known for its role in promoting strong bones and preventing osteoporosis, calcium also helps to regulate heart rhythm and muscle function. Low-fat and/or flavored milk, yogurt, fortified juices and soy/nut milks, canned fish, cheese, collard greens, and broccoli are some sources of calcium.
By providing your child with a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables; whole grains; lean meats, fish, and poultry; and low-fat/nonfat diary products, you can increase his or her chances of developing a healthy and strong body. Get your child involved in the decision making process by having him or her help you choose the recipes for family meals, purchasing the ingredients at the store, and with meal preparation. As a result, you will increase your child’s awareness of the importance of making healthy food choices. For more information about the food sources and recommended intake levels for fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamin E, and calcium, visit MyPyramid.gov.
Why do you think children may be lacking in these essential nutrients? What can be done about it? Who is responsible? Share with us, we want to know!