Child
5th Aug 2020

As parents, we know how important it is to feed our children a healthy diet to provide them with all of the nutrients they need to grow and develop.

Minerals are an important part of this. Each perform their own unique roles within the body, supporting your child to explore and play.

But, do you know the key minerals for children? How they are different from vitamins? And, how can you help to ensure your little one is getting enough of them?

Keep reading to learn about the importance of minerals for your child. Or, you might like to use the following links to jump to the information you’re looking for:

What Are The Differences Between Vitamins And Minerals 1,2

Although vitamins and minerals have a few things in common (for example, both are classified as micronutrients) there are significant differences between these two nutrient groups.

Vitamins are organic substances, which means they are produced by plants and animals.

On the other hand, minerals are classified as inorganic. They are found in the soil and absorbed by plants.

When we eat these plants (or animals that have previously absorbed the minerals from these plants) and the minerals are passed along to us.

While our bodies can synthesise some vitamins in the right conditions (like vitamin D after sunlight exposure), we are unable to produce any minerals and solely rely on the plants and animal products we eat to meet our required intake (1,2).

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Why Are Minerals Important For Your Child?

Vitamins and minerals support your child’s health and contribute to a range of important bodily functions within their bodies.

In fact, due to their importance, many minerals are classified as essential nutrients and our bodies require them to function optimally.

For example, our bones are predominantly made up of calcium and phosphorous. So, without these two essential minerals, our bones would be weak.

This is particularly significant during childhood when each mineral play unique and important roles in supporting the body during a period of rapid growth and development (3,4,5).

Essential Minerals Include:

  • Calcium
  • Copper
  • Iodine
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorous
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

As human bodies are unable to produce any of these minerals, it’s important that your child eats a varied and balanced diet every day to meet their recommended mineral intake.

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What Does A Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) Mean? 6,7

If you’ve been looking into the nutrient needs of your little one, you may have come across the term ‘Recommended Daily Intake’ or ‘RDI’.

An RDI is the average amount of a nutrient that healthy individuals need to consume each day to meet their nutritional needs and maintain optimal health.

It is based on gender and age, so your little one’s mineral RDIs will change over time as they grow and develop.

When an RDI can’t be established for a particular nutrient, an ‘AI’ or ‘Average Intake’ measure is used instead. This is based on the average intake of a healthy population of individuals and isn’t tailored to different age groups or genders (6,7).

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What Is The Difference Between Major And Trace Minerals?

As names suggest, the difference between major and trace minerals is the amount that our bodies require for good health.

We need large amounts of major minerals to support our health and wellbeing, while we need comparatively small amounts of trace minerals each day.

For example, children aged 4-8-years-old require 700mg of dietary calcium (a major mineral) every day but just 4mg of zinc (a trace mineral) (9,10).

However, just because the body requires greater amounts of major minerals doesn’t mean they are any more or less important. Both major and trace minerals are essential nutrients that have important and specific roles to play (8-12).

There Are Seven Major Minerals That Are Necessary For Good Health:

  • Calcium
  • Chloride
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorous
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Sulphur

Examples Of Trace Minerals Include:

  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Fluoride
  • Iodine
  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Molybdenum
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

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What Are Some Of The Key Minerals For Children?

We know that vitamins, minerals and nutrients are important for maintaining a child’s general health and wellbeing. But, are you familiar with the unique roles that different minerals perform to support their growing body?

Explore some of the key minerals for children, why they’re important and which foods contain them:

Calcium

Calcium is an important player in building strong bones and teeth, making it one of the best-known minerals for children’s health.

But, did you know calcium also helps their brain send messages around their little body, and is involved in all their muscle movements?

Childhood is a period of rapid growth and development, so calcium’s functions are particularly important for supporting growing, active kids.

Dietary Sources Of Calcium

Calcium is predominantly found in dairy products, which is why your own parents may have instructed you to drink your milk to ‘grow up big and strong’ as a child. Is your little one sensitive to dairy or a picky eater? If so, you may like to explore five dairy-free sources of calcium here.

Our calcium levels and ability to absorb calcium from the food we eat also depends on another essential nutrient: vitamin D. Therefore, it’s important to ensure you child maintains adequate vitamin D levels to support the important work that calcium performs within their body.

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Iodine

Iodine is an important trace mineral for infants and children due to its role in supporting healthy brain development and cognitive function. This is particularly important during pregnancy and the first few years of a child’s life. Click here if you’d like to learn more about the role of iodine and other micronutrients during pregnancy.

Dietary Sources Of Iodine

Seafood and sea vegetables (including seaweed) are common sources of iodine. Some fruits and vegetables also contain iodine, however, their exact mineral content is dependent on the amount of iodine in the soil.

This means the iodine content of plant-foods is extremely variable depending on where the plants are grown.

To help ensure we regularly consume adequate amounts of iodine, many countries have introduced mandatory fortification programs. And, in 2009, Australia introduced the mandatory fortification of iodised salt in bread.

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Iron

Iron is important for your little one, as it contributes to the production of new red blood cells and plays a role in circulating oxygen around the body. It also supports immune system health and helps to maintain energy levels.

Dietary Sources Of Iron

There are two different types of iron in our diets. The first is haem iron, which is predominately found in animal products such as red meat, poultry and seafood. The other is non-haem iron, which can be found in plant-based foods, including some vegetables, wholegrains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Haem iron is more readily absorbed by the body and used more efficiently than non-haem iron.

According to the World Health Organisation, 30% of the world’s population is estimated to have low iron levels (13,14)If you’d like to explore the signs and symptoms of inadequate iron intake, click here.

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Magnesium

Like calcium, magnesium is also important for supporting your child’s healthy bones and muscles. It also contributes to energy production and helps maintain their energy levels.

Dietary Sources Of Magnesium

Nuts, seeds and cereals are all sources of magnesium; however, the magnesium content of refined grains is significantly lower than that of whole grains. Legumes, lentils, seafood, and dairy products all also contain magnesium.

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Zinc

Did you know that zinc is found in almost every cell of our bodies? Not only does it function as an important player in bone growth, but it also supports immune system health and healthy eye function.

Zinc also aids the healing of wounds (like cuts and scrapes), so is particularly useful for active little explorers.

Find out more about why zinc is important for babies and kids here.

Dietary Sources Of Zinc

Zinc is predominantly found in animal products, such as red meat, cheese, milk, poultry, fish and eggs (15-20).

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Common Reasons Some Children May Have Inadequate Mineral Levels

The mineral content of the foods we eat depends on the mineral content of the soil where they are grown. This can vary depending on a range of factors, including where the food is grown, the age of the soil, and the number of times the soil has been used to grow a crop previously.

When it comes to selecting your fruit, veggies and animal products at the supermarket, it’s difficult to know these factors. So, the best way to help ensure your child reaches their recommended mineral intake is to select a wide variety of foods.

Some children may experience inadequate mineral levels due to factors that stop them from eating this variety of dietary sources.

Common reasons children don’t consume a healthy, balanced diet are picky eating, food preferences and food sensitivities as well as lifestyle choices such as veganism or vegetarianism.

If your little one is a picky eater, you may find these tips useful for helping them to get through their fussy phase.

If you have any concerns about your child’s nutrition, take them to see a health professional. Your local GP will be able to assess their individual dietary needs and provide tailored advice accordingly.

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Tips To Help Support Your Child’s Mineral Intake

The best way to support your child’s nutrient intake is with a healthy variety of foods every day. A well-balanced diet includes:

  • A variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, with adequate servings in line with the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating
  • Whole grains
  • Dairy products or their alternatives
  • Lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, legumes and eggs
  • Minimal processed or fast foods and limited saturated fats, added sugar, and excess salt

Eating A Variety Of Foods (21-25)

We can use calcium as an example of the variety of foods needed to meet a mineral’s Recommended Daily Intake.

Calcium is important for growing children, supporting their healthy growth and development. As such, it has quite a high RDI.

The daily calcium RDI for children:

  • Aged 1-3 years: 500mg
  • Aged 4-8 years: 700mg
  • Aged 9-11 years: 1,000mg

With this in mind, a 4-8-year-old child would need to eat the following foods every day to meet the 700mg calcium RDI:

  • 1 cup of regular milk: 304mg
  • 150g of yoghurt with fruit pieces: 170mg
  • 5 broccoli florets (37mg)
  • 10 almonds (30mg)
  • 1 slice of cheddar cheese (160mg)

As you can see, it takes a mix of different foods to achieve your little one’s adequate daily intake.

Pairing Nutrients That Work Together

The vitamins and minerals we consume don’t work alone when it comes to supporting health and wellbeing. In fact, many nutrients team up to support important bodily functions.

Using the calcium example again, vitamin D has a role to play in helping this mineral’s absorption.

To help your little one’s body absorb the calcium from the food they eat, helping them to maintain their vitamin D levels is important (24,25).

Another example of this is non-haem iron and vitamin C. Non-haem iron is the type of iron that is mostly found in plant-based foods and is harder for the body to absorb than iron that comes from animal sources (24,25).

However, vitamin C helps the body to convert non-haem iron into a type that is easier for the body to use, so eating high-iron foods alongside sources of vitamin C can increase the amount of iron that is absorbed from that meal.

It’s also worth considering that some forms of minerals are easier for the body to absorb and use than others. This is known as nutrient bioavailability. Click here, if you’d like to learn more about the importance of bioavailability and the factors that may affect it.

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How To Compare Mineral Supplements (What You Should Look For)

It’s important to keep in mind that the best source of vitamins and minerals are a healthy and balanced diet.

However, from time to time when lifestyle factors such as fussy eating arise, your child’s intake may not always be optimal.

During these periods, you may wish to support their mineral levels with a supplement. But with so many on the market, it can be difficult to know which one to choose.

You may find it useful to keep the following factors in mind when comparing dietary supplements for your child:

  • Select a product that has been listed with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) of Australia: TGA listed supplements are subject to rigorous standards to ensure they are high quality. To know if a supplement is listed with the TGA, look for ‘AUST L’ on the pack, following by a six-digit number.
  • Look for bioavailable ingredients: The higher a nutrients’ bioavailability, the more readily absorbed by the body it is. If you’re not sure which ingredients are more bioavailable than others, ask your local pharmacist for help.

If you’d like more helpful tips for comparing supplements, you can find more information here.

If you have any concerns about your child’s nutrient intake, have a chat with your friendly local GP who will be able to provide tailored advice based on their individual needs.

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What Are The Different Types Of Mineral Supplements? (Liquid, Gummy, Tablets)

From liquids to gummies to tablets, there are a range of different ways children may take their supplements.

If your health professional recommends a mineral supplement for your child, you may find it helpful to consider the differences between liquid, gummy and tablet vitamins:

Liquid Vitamins

  • Easy to take for most children of all ages
  • May be mixed into water or their favourite juice, which can be helpful for fussy eaters
  • It may be difficult to find a great-tasting formula. Look for products that use innovative flavour technology and flavours that are taste-tested with children.
  • It may be difficult to give your child the correct dose if you don’t have an accurate measuring device. Look for products that include a measuring device.

Gummy Vitamins

  • Children who are old enough to chew them properly may find gummies easy to take
  • Lollies and gummy supplements may be confused, and children may want to consume more than the recommended dose
  • Gummies may contain added sugars
  • The manufacturing process may involve heat, which may degrade some vitamins including vitamin C

Tablet Vitamins

  • Tablet vitamins must be chewed properly and may not be suitable for children younger than 4-years-old
  • Tablets may need to be crushed by a parent for children who are unable to effectively chew the supplement
  • Some tablets may contain added sugar, sweeteners or bulking agents
  • Some tablets may have a chalky texture, which may be off-putting to some children

At the end of the day, it’s all about finding what works for your child.

Minerals are an important result of a healthy, balanced diet that supports your little one’s healthy growth and development. So, finding ways to help them overcome their fussy phase is important.

If you are worried about their nutrient intake, talk to your local health professional. If they recommend a supplement, discussing the pros and cons of different products may help you to find a format that works for your child.

These medicines may not be right for you. Read the warnings before purchase. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional.

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Have you found this article useful? If so, you may also be interested in the following:

References

  1. Sesso, H & Harvard Health Publishing. (2019). Making Sense of Vitamins and Minerals. Harvard Health Publishing.
  2. Pharmacy Times. (2015). Vitamins and Minerals Explained. Accessed 14 May 2020 https://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/otc/2015/OTCGuide-2015/Vitamins-and-Minerals-Explained
  3. Linus Pauling Institute. (2020). Micronutrient Information Centre – Minerals. Accessed 14 May 2020 https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals
  4. Linus Pauling Institute. (2017). Micronutrient Information Centre – Bone Health in Depth. Accessed 14 May 2020 https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/bone-health
  5. Harvard Health Publishing. (2018). Precious metals and other important minerals for health. Accessed 14 May 2020 https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/precious-metals-and-other-important-minerals-for-health
  6. Australian Government, National Health and Medical Research Council and Ministry of Health New Zealand. (2017). Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand – Introduction, Accessed 14 May 2020 www.nrv.gov.au/introduction
  7. Dieticians Association of Australia. (2020). What are the current Nutrient Reference Values (NRVs)? Accessed 14 May 2020 https://daa.asn.au/smart-eating-for-you/smart-eating-fast-facts/nourishing-nutrients/what-are-the-current-nutrient-reference-values-nrvs/
  8. Harvard Health Publishing. (2018). Precious metals and other important minerals for health. Accessed 14 May 2020 https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/precious-metals-and-other-important-minerals-for-health
  9. Australian Government, National Health and Medical Research Council and Ministry of Health New Zealand. (2014). Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand – Calcium, Accessed 14 May 2020 www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/calcium
  10. Australian Government, National Health and Medical Research Council and Ministry of Health New Zealand. (2017). Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand – Zinc, Accessed 14 May 2020 nrv.gov.au/nutrients/zinc
  11. World Health Organization. (2002). World Health Report. Accessed 21 March 2019 https://www.who.int/whr/2002/chapter4/en/index3.html
  12. Asobayire, F, Adou, P, Davidsson, L. et al. (2001). Prevalence of iron deficiency with and without concurrent anemia in population groups with high prevalence of malaria and other infections: a study in Côte d’Ivoire. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 74 (6). 776-782.
  13. World Health Organisation 2017, Micronutrient Deficiencies, “Iron Deficiency Anaemia”, http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/ida/en/
  14. World Health Organisation. (2004). Iodine Status Worldwide. WHO Global Database. Geneva, Switzerland.
  15. Braun, L, Cohen, M. (2010). Herbs & Natural Supplements: An Evidence Based Guide. 3. Chatswood, New South Wales.
  16. Higdon, J, Drake, V & Corporation, E. (2012). An evidence-based approach to vitamins and minerals: health benefits and intake recommendations. Thieme: Stuttgart; New York.
  17. Whitney, E, Rolfes, S, Crowe, T, Cameron-Smith, D, Walsh, A. (2014). Understanding Nutrition: Australian & New Zealand Edition. Melbourne; Victoria.
  18. Gropper, AS, Smith, JL & Carr, TP. (2018). Advanced nutrition and human metabolism. Cengage Learning: Boston, Massachusetts.
  19. Charlton, K, Probst, Y & Kiene, G. (2016). Dietary Iodine Intake of the Australian Population after Introduction of a Mandatory Iodine Fortification Programme. Nutrients, 8 (11). doi: 10.3390/nu8110701.
  20. Schonfeldt, H & Hall, N. (2011). Determining iron bioavailability with a constant heme iron value. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, 24 (4). 738-740.
  21. Australian Government, National Health and Medical Research Council and Ministry of Health New Zealand. (2014). Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand – Calcium, Accessed 14 May 2020 www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/calcium
  22. Gropper, AS, Smith, JL & Carr, TP. (2018). Advanced nutrition and human metabolism. Cengage Learning: Boston, Massachusetts.
  23. The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. (2018). Vitamin D. Accessed 18 May 2020 https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Vitamin_D_low/
  24. Lynch, S & Stoltzfus, R. (2003). Iron and Ascorbic Acid: Proposed Fortification Levels and Recommended Iron Compounds. The Journal of Nutrition, 133 (9). 2978S-2984S.
  25. Saunders, A, Craig, W, Baines, S, et al. (2013). Iron and vegetarian diets. Medical Journal of Australia, 199 (4). doi: 10.5694/mja11.11494.

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