Nutritional deficiency in children can hamper their overall growth and development. It occurs when the body is unable to absorb basic essential nutrients. This primarily happens with children when their body is unable to absorb iron and vitamin D.
While this may lead to abnormalities or stunted growth in the physically, psychologically its effect is far more detrimental. But how do you identify nutritional deficiencies in children?
Dr Debjani Banerjee, consultant, Nutrition and Dietetics, PSRI Hospital, Delhi lists 10 signs of nutritional deficiency in children.
Depression and anxiety
Depression and anxiety begins in the brain but can be brought on by nutritional deficiencies. Take for instance, protein deficiency. Proteins are made up of amino acids that can be found in plant and animal foods. These amino acids are important because the brains uses them to create neurotransmitters such as serotonin, endorphins, catecholamine andgamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These neurotransmitters keep us feeling happy and calm instead of depressed and anxious.
What to do: A diet complete with high quality proteins can help to correct this nutritional balance. You can count protein intake or eat whole meals cuts that include fat and even make broth out of the bones. In severe cases supplementation with specific amino acids may be needed to help support the body.
Restlessness or hyperactivity
Many of you might think that restlessness in kids is a good sign. However, hyperactive children have poor digestion and this makes it hard for the body to absorb many nutrients.
What to do: You should avoid or stop using artificial foods that aid in digestion. Instead, you can add foods like papaya, yogurt, and buttermilk in the diet of your child to aid digestion.
Normally speech problems like delayed speech is related to heredity, but it indicates that your child might have vitamin B12 deficiency.
What to do: It is advisable to give natural foods rich in Vitamin B12 instead of supplementation. These foods are dairy products, eggs, pork, fish, chickens, beef and organ meats.
Dry Skin or Hair
Dry skin and hair can be related to deficiency in fat soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K2.
What to do: You can accomplish this but supplementing the daily diet with fermented cod liver oil at half a tsp/day. However, you need to consult a pediatrician to find out if vitamin supplements can help.
Crowding teeth is another example which is usually related to heredity. However, scientific research has shown that crowding of teeth occurs mostly due to nutritional deficiency. It is not just the kids who eat more processed food and lack proper dental spacing, but also kids whose mothers are unable to pay enough attention to add nutrition food during their pregnancy and have poor spacing in their teeth.
Children who eat traditional food including rich fats, animal proteins and properly cooked carbohydrates, have enough spacing in teeth.
What to do: It is advisable to include properly cooked food and nutritious food items such as lentils, pulses, eggs and poultry.
Frequent colds and flu
A good healthy diet is a great way to prevent sickness. Focus on providing all nutrients through food apart from paying attention to any one nutritional deficiencies.
What to do: Always try to introduce traditional way of cooking and choices of foods. In that way child’s immune system will get better and his immune system will get better.
Cavities are often thought to be a result of too much sugar or candy in the diet. Though this doesn’t help, cavities are found in children deficient in proper mineral and fat soluble vitamins.
What to do: It is advisable that you introduce food items that are rich in fat soluble vitamins such as green leafy vegetables, cabbage, milk and even liver.
Low energy level and foggy brains
Children who are deficient of iron (Fe), get tired easily and also get sick and have a foggy brain. They might not be able to keep up with the stamina of children their own age. This is a definite warning signal for all parents.
What to do: Introduce foods like meats, nuts, seeds, vegetables, legumes and dried fruits to cover up for iron deficiency in your child.
Cranky or sporadic emotions
It has been researched that fats (mainly Omega 3) are vital food for good mood stabilization. Good saturated fats like butter and coconut oil help keep these fats in our brains. Hormones are also a player. Unbalanced hormones can cause us to feed irritable and moody.
What to do: You can include saturated fats and also add carrots to your daily diet to help absorb extra estrogen in the body.
When we eat foods that are not nutrient dense, our bodies are hungry. They become starved for good nutrition and that is why we do not feel satisfied. That is probably the reason that most of us are surprised to see obesity in the list of nutrition deficiency. However surprising it may seem, but it is the deficiency of proper nutrition that leads to obesity.
What to do: Remember that children feel satisfied when they eat properly balanced food, which includes animal products, milk, butter, cheese, fruits, vegetables and properly prepared grains.
So keep an eye on your child’s daily activities and behaviour and begin by first understanding the cause and follow it up by changing his diet.