Typical deficiencies in Indian kids and how to tackle them early
The nutritional intake of a child in India is usually affected by several factors like the socio-economic status of his family, cultural and religious beliefs, lifestyle and the area where he lives. Hence, while macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins and fats are often included in his daily meals, micronutrients get overlooked. And this is where most nutrient deficiencies creep in. Hence, as a parent, you need to understand how these deficiencies can impact your kid’s growth and development, what are the common types of deficiencies, and the foods that you need to provide to tackle them.
Importance of tackling nutritional deficiencies in kids
Nutrition-related deficiencies have a significant impact on the overall health of children, especially during their early years. According to studies, more than 80% of the Indian population suffers from deficiencies related to calcium, vitamin A, B12, folate, lysine, iron, zinc, and vitamin B6.
Micronutrient deficiency results from insufficient intake of essential vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for the growth and development in children. Such kind of deficiencies in a pregnant woman or even in early childhood years can lead to severe complications, including increased mortality and morbidity rates, and physical and mental defects.
How to overcome micronutrient deficiencies in children
The key vitamins and minerals necessary for human health are iron, zinc, calcium, vitamins A, B6, B12, and folate. Read on to learn more about deficiencies of these micronutrients in children and how to overcome them.
- Apart from anaemia, iron deficiency in your children can lead to behavioural issues, irreversible effects on psychomotor skills and cognition, and attention deficits.
- Foods that result in decreased iron absorption and iron-deficiency are those that have high phytates (roots-tubers, cereals-legumes, whole wheat flour, maize, beans, and sorghum) and those with low vitamin C, as this vitamin enhances iron absorption. The iron in animal-based foods is more readily absorbed by your child’s body too.
- After the age of 6 months, your child must be fed complementary foods that are rich in iron. Eggs, lean meats, and fishes should be included in his or her diet.
- If your child is a vegetarian, foods rich in vitamin C should be offered along with plant-based iron sources like grains, legumes, seeds and nuts. You can also consult a doctor regarding iron supplements.
- If the mother is suffering from malnutrition, anaemia, hypertension, or diabetes, iron supplementation might have to be started from the age of 4 months. This is because the transfer of iron will be low through breast milk. However, consult a doctor first.
- Deficiency of zinc in the body can result in hypogonadism, growth failure, impaired olfactory and gustatory sense, skin lesions, and impaired resistance to infection. Low intake of zinc-rich foods, high intake of inhibitors (phytates) and losses through diarrhoea can cause this.
- Foods rich in zinc include grains, legumes, milk, eggs, seeds and nuts. Apart from this, zinc-fortified foods are also important for controlling/eliminating zinc deficiency. Zinc supplements can prevent pneumonia and diarrhoea significantly, but should be taken after consulting a doctor.
- Lack of iodine in the body can cause diseases like goitre, cretinism, hypothyroidism, brain damage, abortion, stillbirth, mental retardation, psychomotor defects, speech and hearing impairment or neuropsychological deficits. Iodine deficiency in kids can also lead to lower IQ levels.
- The most cost-effective and sustainable method of iodine supplementation is through universal salt iodization (USI). Non-iodized salt should be totally avoided for kids.
Vitamin A deficiency
Deficiency of vitamin A can cause blindness and occurs due to low intake of vitamin A rich animal foods or veggies and fruits rich in beta carotene. Milk products like butter, ghee, yoghurt, curd, cheese, eggs, liver and yellow or orange coloured vegetables and fruits are rich in vitamin A too.
Vitamin D deficiency
- It is common knowledge that vitamin D is very important for building strong bones as it helps in calcium absorption. This means, it contributes to bone mineralization and calcium-phosphorus homeostasis.
- Vitamin D deficiency hence results in infantile hypocalcaemia, rickets, and delayed growth and dentition.
- Most infants are dependent on breast milk, sunlight, and vitamin D supplements during the initial years of their life. As they grow up, you should encourage your kids to play outside, and provide him foods like eggs, fatty fishes, cheese and milk.
To keep these common deficiencies at bay, parents need to provide a balanced diet rich in micronutrients to their kids. Also, they should talk to their kids’ paediatricians regarding supplements and foods fortified with micronutrients, to ensure healthy and steady growth.