Important Minerals For Your Child (And How To Help Them Get Enough)
25 min read
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:
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).
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).
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.
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).
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Zinc is predominantly found in animal products, such as red meat, cheese, milk, poultry, fish and eggs (15-20).
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.
The best way to support your child’s nutrient intake is with a healthy variety of foods every day. A well-balanced diet includes:
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:
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:
As you can see, it takes a mix of different foods to achieve your little one’s adequate daily intake.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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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