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A healthy diet should give us all the essential nutrients  – vitamins and minerals  – our bodies require to function well.

If we don’t get the essential nutrients from our diet, our bodies will tell us sooner or later. A mineral or vitamin deficiency tends to happen slowly over time, but who wants to wake up one day to the realisation that their bones are weak because they lacked essential nutrients?

Other common symptoms associated with mineral deficiencies include fatigue and a poor immune system, so it’s not a bad idea to remind ourselves of the very good reasons to skip junk food and eat healthy food packed with essential nutrients.

Read expert advice on why and when your child might need supplementation.

Is your child a fussy eater? Find out how to work around this, here.

Essential nutrients and the diet

made of iron

Anèl Kirsten, a dietician from Paarl specialising in paediatric nutrition, says that one of the biggest contributors to mineral deficiencies in children is poor or fussy eating. The most common deficiency she sees in children is iron. And that’s not hard to believe if we consider that nearly 80% of the world suffers from iron deficiency, according to the World Health Organization. More than half of the iron in our bodies is in our red blood cells, but it’s also part of other proteins and enzymes that keep our bodies healthy.

who is at risk of iron-deficiency?

“Children who consume too much cow’s milk for their age and don’t eat enough solid food or lack variety in their diet are at risk of being iron-deficient,” says Kirsten.  “The calcium in cow’s milk inhibits iron absorption. So drinking large amounts interferes with iron absorption and fills the child’s tummy, which means they eat even less iron-rich foods, exacerbating the problem.”

dietary tips

This condition is a slow burner, but it can be severe and cause anaemia. “Chronic and ongoing iron deficiency could lead to irreversible developmental delays,” says Kirsten. If your child lacks iron, they could feel weak and tired all the time, perform poorly at school and have  slow social and cognitive development. Include iron, meat, poultry, fish, beans and lentils in your child’s diet to make sure they get enough.

a lack of minerals

If your child is following a healthy, balanced diet, mineral deficiencies are unlikely. But if your child has a problem, your doctor may recommend supplementation, although Kirsten says incorporating the necessary food sources should address the underlying mineral deficiency … or help to avoid one.

what minerals are needed

Other than iron, the main minerals your child needs to get from their diet are calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc.

Children need calcium for strong bones and teeth, and for healthy blood vessels, muscles, nerves and hormones. Magnesium is also required for healthy bones and fingernails. Potassium is needed for muscle contraction, proper heart function and the transmission of nerve signals. Zinc aids your child’s metabolism, which impacts on immune system function, wound healing and DNA synthesis.

dietary tips
  • Bananas, potatoes, plums and orange juice are great sources of potassium
  • Dairy products are a good source of calcium as are vegetables like broccoli.
  • Nuts, whole grains, legumes and dark leafy greens like spinach and kale provide magnesium.
  •  Zinc-rich foods include seafood, red meat, spinach, cashew nuts, beans and mushrooms.

A healthy diet containing a good mix of essential nutrients will benefit your child’s health, development and wellbeing.

did you know?

Popular belief is that the white spots on your nails indicate a lack of calcium, but according to some experts, it may indicate a zinc deficiency.

Marc de Chazal