Why are nutrients important?
A healthy, balanced diet is essential for your child to support their growth and development through each life stage. If a child does not have enough nutrients in their diet, they may suffer from limited growth and even problems with their ability to learn1-4. Some children, who are lacking in the vital nutrients they need, may experience fatigue and be more likely to become sick5.
Knowing your nutrients can be a little bit of a puzzle, we’ve broken down what they are, their key functions, where you can find them and how much your child may need.
Why is vitamin D important?6
Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which helps to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. A vitamin D deficiency can lead to bone deformities, bone pain and tenderness.
What are good sources of vitamin D?6
Vitamin D can be obtained through the diet although the majority is made in the skin, from exposure to the sun. During winter months, production of vitamin D in the body can be lower due to less sunshine and less time spent outside, so it is important your child receives enough from their diet.
Vitamin D is found in a small amount of food, but good sources include:
- Oily fish
- Red meat
- Egg yolks
How much vitamin D does my child need?6
Children from 1 year to adults need 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day.
Why is calcium important?
There is more calcium in the body than any other mineral, it has several important functions. Calcium helps to build strong bones and teeth. It regulates muscle contractions, including the heartbeat and ensures that the blood clots normally. A lack of calcium in children can lead to rickets which is a condition that affects bone development in children.
What are good sources of calcium?7,8
Calcium is found in a lot of food, good sources include:
- Milk, cheese and other dairy foods
- Green, leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage and okra but not spinach
- Soya beans
- Soya drinks with added calcium
- Bread and anything made with fortified flower
- Fish whose bones you eat, such as sardines and pilchards
How much calcium does my child need?7
Calcium intake varies on the age of the child.9
- Children 1-3 years need 350 mg per day
- Children 4-5 years need 450 mg per day
- Children 7-10 years need 550 mg per day
Typical calcium contents of foods10:
- 200 ml glass of milk (whole, semi-skimmed, skimmed, soya milk with added calcium): 250 mg
- 100 g yoghurt: 120 mg
- 100 g fromage frais: 90 mg
- 30 g of cheddar type cheese: 210 mg
- 2 slices of white bread: 70 mg
- 2 slices of wholemeal bread: 40 mg
- 15 g almonds: 40 mg
- 80 g spring greens: 60 mg
- 50 g watercress: 85 mg
Why is iron important?
Iron is an essential mineral; it has many important roles in the body, helping your muscles work properly. Babies and children need enough iron to grow properly. Iron helps to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. A lack of iron can lead to anaemia; symptoms include tiredness and lack of energy.
What are good sources of iron?11
You should aim for your child to have a source of iron at every meal. There are plenty of sources of iron, these include:
- Dried fruits, such as dried apricots
- Wholegrains, such as brown rice
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Soybean flour
- Most dark-green leafy vegetables – such as watercress and curly kale
How much iron does my child need?11,12
The amount of iron needed varies at different life stages.
- Children 1-3 years need 1.7 mg
- Children 4-6 years need 6.1 mg
- Children 7-10 years need 8.7 mg
Typical iron contents of foods are12
- 100g mince beef: 2.7 mg
- 2 pork sausages: 1.5 mg
- 1 chicken breast: 0.5 mg
- 50g tuna: 0.5 mg
- 42g of quinoa: 3.9 mg
- 30g cornflakes: 2.3 mg
- 2 medium slices of wholemeal bread: 1.9 mg
- 100g baked beans: 1.4 mg
- 2 tablespoons of peas: 1.0 mg
- 2 broccoli florets 0.9 mg
Why is vitamin A important?13
Vitamin A, also known as retinol, has several important functions that help to keep the body healthy and fighting infection. Vitamin A helps your immune system continue to work as it should, helping to fight infections, it keeps the skin healthy and it helps your vision in dim light.
What are good sources of vitamin A?13
Good sources of vitamin A include:
- Oily fish
- Fortified low-fat spreads
- Milk and yoghurt
Why is vitamin C important?14
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid; it helps to protect cells and keeps them healthy. It is necessary for the maintenance of healthy connective tissues, supporting and structuring other tissues and organs. It also helps to heal wounds.
What are good sources of vitamin C?14
Vitamin C can’t be stored in the body, so you need it in your diet every day. You can get vitamin C from more places than just oranges. It is found in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Good sources include:
- Oranges and orange juice
- Red and green peppers
- Brussel sprouts
Why is vitamin B important?15
There are many different types of vitamin B. All of which have separate functions.
|B-group vitamin||What are the key functions of vitamin B?15||What are good sources of vitamin B?15|
|Thiamin (vitamin B1)||
Thiamin keeps the nervous system healthy. Working with the B-group vitamins it helps to break down food, and release the energy
|Riboflavin (vitamin B2)||
Riboflavin keeps skin, eyes and the nervous system healthy. Like thiamin, it is necessary to help release energy from the food we eat.
|Niacin (vitamin B3)||
Niacin also helps to release energy from the food we eat. It also helps keep the nervous system and your skin healthy.
Pantothenic acid helps to release the energy from the food we eat.
Vitamin B6 helps to use and store energy from the protein and carbohydrates in the food we eat. It is also helps to form haemoglobin, which carries oxygen in red blood cells.
|Biotin (vitamin B7)||
Biotin is essential in the process of metabolising fat.
Folic acid works well with vitamin B12, both helping to form healthy red blood cells. It also helps to reduce the risk of defects in the central nervous system.
Vitamin B12 makes red blood cells and keeps the nervous system healthy. Like other B-group vitamins it helps release energy from the food we eat and processes folic acid.
Why is vitamin E important?16
Vitamin E is an antioxidant which means it protects cell membranes. It also helps to maintain healthy skin, eyes and strengthens your immune system.
What are good sources of vitamin E?16
Vitamin E is found in a wide variety of foods, good sources include:
- Plant oils, such as soya, corn and olive oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Wheatgerm, found in cereals and cereal products
Why is vitamin K important?17
Vitamin K is needed for blood clotting, which allows wounds to heal properly. There’s also some evidence vitamin K may keep bones healthy.
What is a good source of vitamin K?17
Your child should have received a vitamin K injection or drops as a newborn. Vitamin K can be found in:
- Green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach
- Vegetables oils
- Cereal grains
Why is zinc important?18
Zinc has many important functions, it helps to make new cells and enzymes, it helps with the processing of carbohydrates, fat and protein in food and it helps to heal wounds19.
What are good sources of zinc?18
Good sources of zinc include
- Dairy foods, such as cheese
- Cereal products, such as wheat germ
Why is magnesium important?18
Magnesium is a mineral that helps us turn the food we eat into energy. It also helps to make the glands that produce the hormones which are important for bone health, making sure they work normally.
What are good sources of magnesium?18
Magnesium is found in a wide variety of foods, including:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Brown rice
- Bread, especially whole grain
- Dairy foods
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- Lindberg L et al. Acta Paediatrica 2006;95:425-429.
- Dubois L et al. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 2007;doi:10.1186/1479-5868-4-9 Published on-line 4th April 2007.
- Ekstein S et al. Clin Pediatr 2010;49(3):217-220.
- Chatoor I et al. Pediatrics 2004;113(5):e440-e447.
- Medline Plus, 2013: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002456.htm Accessed 6th May 2016
- NHS Choices, 2017: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-D.aspx Last Accessed 22nd March 2017
- NHS Choices: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Calcium.aspx Accessed 22nd March 2017
- NHS Choices, 2015: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Rickets/Pages/Introduction.aspx Accessed 22nd March 2017
- The British Dietetic Association, 2014: https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/Calcium.pdf Accessed 22nd March 2017
- Great Western Hospitals, NHS, 2009: http://www.gwh.nhs.uk/media/31965/guidance_for_healthy_bones.pdf Accessed on 22nd March 2017 Accessed 22nd March 2017
- NHS Choices, 2017: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Iron.aspx Accessed 22nd March 2017
- NHS Norfolk , 2011 http://www.nnuh.nhs.uk/publication/iron-content-of-foods-children-10-1-11/ Accessed 22nd March 2017
- NHS Choices, 2017: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-A.aspx Accessed on 22nd March 2017
- NHS Choices, 2017: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-C.aspx Accessed 22nd March 2017
- NHS Choices, 2017: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-B.aspx Accessed 22nd March 2017
- NHS Choices, 2017: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-E.aspx Accessed 22nd March 2017
- NHS Choices: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-K.aspx accessed 22nd March 2017
- NHS Choices, 2017: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Other-vitamins-minerals.aspx#zinc accessed 22nd March 2017