Children who eat a variety of foods from each of the 4 kinds of food (embedded link to What to eat page) on most days, are quite likely to be getting roughly what they need.
In addition, the greater the general variety in the diet, the more likely it is that a child gets all the nutrients, at the ideal level, needed for health, wellbeing and development.
Here are some important examples of nutrients and why they are important:
Fibre is needed to keep the gut healthy:
Different kinds of fibre help many kinds of healthy bacteria grow in our gut. The gut and the brain are in constant communication with each other. This means that a variety of fibre rich foods helps both our gut and our mood. Fibre can be found in fruits, vegetables, pulses, wholegrains and beans. A diet with a variety of these foods will contain the many kinds of fibre needed to keep the gut and brain healthy. A lack of fibre will also contribute to constipation. See FAQ page on Food & Health (embedded link) for more on this. It can take time for the human gut to get used to more fibre so don’t introduce too much at once.
Iron is needed for healthy blood:
The Iron is needed to carry oxygen from our lungs and deliver it to our muscles and our brain. If we don’t get enough Iron our brain finds it hard to concentrate and we can’t manage our moods very well. We also feel like we have no energy and get tired easily. Red meat and eggs are good sources of Iron. It is also possible to get enough Iron without red meat or eggs, if you eat a variety of fruit, vegetables, pulses fortified breakfast cereals.
Calcium and vitamin D are needed for healthy bones:
If we don’t include dairy products like milk, cheese or yoghurt, we might become deficient in calcium. Vegans and children with a milk allergy can get it in other non-dairy foods like tofu (Bean curd) or plant based “milks”. With children on a dairy free diet, specialist advice may be needed to ensure that the “dairy alternatives” are giving them everything they need including calcium, protein and Iodine.
Vitamin D helps to keep calcium in the bones. It comes mostly from the sunlight reaching our skin during the summer months. It may also be important for mood and our immune system. It is hard to get enough in Scotland without a supplement. It is included in the Healthy Start” vitamins for pre-school children. You can find out more about these from your Health Visitor, pharmacist, or by clicking here: https://www.healthystart.nhs.uk/ .You can also buy Vitamin D on its own (tablets or drops) if you your child is not taking the Healthy Start Vitamins.
Vitamin C is needed for general health:
Fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C. Small amounts are also found in potatoes. It is needed to help with Iron absorption, to build connective tissue, and help wounds heal. It is also an “Antioxidant”, and preventing the build up of “Free radicals” that can damage our body. Some other nutrients work as antioxidants. Examples include vitamins A & E, and various natural pigments found in different coloured fruits and vegetables
Severe deficiency of vitamin C is known as scurvy. Sailors used to get this on long journeys when they had no fresh fruit or vegetables to eat. It is rare these days but serious. Vitamin C is also included in the “Healthy Start” drops for pre-school children. You can find out more about these from your Health Visitor, pharmacist, or by clicking here: https://www.healthystart.nhs.uk/
Other Nutrients needed for Health & Wellbeing:
We need around 40 different nutrients from our diet. This includes vitamins, minerals, protein and essential fats. Other nutrients that are often too low in children’s diets include Magnesium, Zinc, Selenium, Folic Acid and Omega 3 fats. The more varied the diet, the less likely a deficiency in any one of these.
Further Information on Nutrients and Supplements:
If you think your child’s diet might be missing some important nutrients, you might want to take a look at the following video on “micronutrient supplements”. It is important that any supplement you give to a child, is carefully matched to the nutrients missing from the diet. This video will help to guide you.