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When your child is not getting enough nutrients

<p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><img src="/nairobi/PublishingImages/Nutritional%20Deficiency%20body%20image.jpg" alt="" style="margin: 5px;"/></span> </p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">It is vital for children to have proper nutrition and nourishment at an early age so that they can lead a healthy and disease-free life. When food is consumed, digested and absorbed by the body it provides the energy the body needs to perform various essential functions and for proper growth and development.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">The food consumption habits of children have changed during the last few decades. Currently, many children consume food high in fat, especially saturated fats and sweetened beverages. They do not eat enough fruits, or vegetables and consequently do not consume enough fiber. In addition, their calcium, vitamin D and iron intake is also low. These poor eating habits often result in nutritional deficiency.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><strong>What is nutritional deficiency?</strong></span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Nutritional deficiency means that the body lacks some essential micro and macro nutrients which are important in order to perform some essential bodily functions such as growth and body repair.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">The body&#39;s inability to absorb these essential nutrients could lead to long-term health complications like skin disorders, digestion problems, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and defective bone growth. It also impacts on mental and cognitive growth.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><strong>Signs of nutritional deficiency</strong></span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Common signs of nutritional deficiency include stunted growth, general weakness, trouble breathing, poor eating habits and lack of concentration.  Sleepiness, unusual food cravings, dry skin, or hair and suffering from chronic infections could also be signs of poor nutrition.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">It is important to consult a paediatrician as an early diagnosis allows for the treatment of the problem and avoidance of long term complications that could result from it.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><strong>What causes this problem?</strong></span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">In most cases the nutritional deficiency starts in the mother&#39;s womb. Lack of various nutrients in the mother such as folic acid, calcium, omega-3, vitamin D and iodine could result in the newborn&#39;s health problems hence the importance of prioritizing maternal nutrition.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">In toddlers the most common causes of inadequate nutrition are poor food intake, unhealthy eating habits, frequent, or chronic illness and picky eating behaviour. The inability of the body to absorb the nutrients from the food can also be caused by disease.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><strong>Common nutritional deficiencies</strong></span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">To maintain brain, muscle, bone, nerves, skin, blood circulation, and immune system, children require a steady supply of both macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). The micronutrients, though required in small amounts, are essential for proper growth and development of the body.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">The most common deficiencies are calcium, fiber, zinc, iron, magnesium, potassium, protein, vitamins E, B12 and D. Below are some nutrient rich foods that can be incorporated into their diets to bridge nutritional deficiencies. For children who have trouble getting the right nutrients through food alone, nutritional supplements can help.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><strong>Protein:</strong> Animal based foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy foods. Almonds, lentils, peanuts, beans, chia seeds, quinoa are also good sources of protein.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><strong>Iron:</strong> Beans, peas, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas, red meat, pork, poultry, and seafood.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><strong>Vitamin D:</strong> Fatty fish and fish oils; Foods that contain vitamin D naturally are few but many foods are fortified with vitamin D including milk, milk alternatives, yogurt, baby formulas, cereal, and juice. Adequate exposure to sunlight also helps with vitamin D.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><strong>Zinc:</strong> Found in a variety of animal foods including meats, poultry, dairy products, eggs, shellfish. Plant based zinc-rich foods include seeds, nuts, whole wheat breads, whole grain cereals, and beans.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><strong>Calcium:</strong> Milk and milk products, calcium-fortified milk alternatives, dark leafy green vegetables, tofu, fish (salmon and sardines), nuts, seeds, white beans, chickpeas, and fortified cereals.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><strong>Vitamin B12:</strong> Animal foods, including meat, dairy and egg products. Plant-based foods are poor sources unless they&#39;re fortified with B12.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><strong>Potassium:</strong> The richest sources of potassium can be found in many fruits and vegetables. Other foods include white beans, black beans, and edamame.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><strong>Fibre:</strong> High-fiber foods include pears, apples, raspberries, green peas, broccoli, whole wheat breads, quinoa, oatmeal, beans, and lentils. </span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><strong><em>By Dr Angela Migowa, Consultant Paediatric Rheumatologist at Aga Khan University Hospital Nairobi</em></strong>

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