5 common nutritional deficiencies in toddlers and tips to prevent them

Nutritional deficiencies in toddlers are common due to several reasons, including their fussiness, increased screen time, and more. Here are 5 of the most common nutritional deficiencies and how to tackle them.
nutritional deficiencies in toddlers
Common nutritional deficiencies in toddlers. Image courtesy: Adobe stock
Published: 9 Oct 2023, 13:12 pm IST
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Feeding toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3 can be extremely challenging. These initial years continue to be a period of rapid growth and development milestones and the brain development happens till 2 years of life. Nutrient requirements are higher and to be met based on the recommended dietary allowances (RDA). Kids tend to become fussy around this time and begin to exert food choices independently and parents will face difficulty in feeding them. They need to be encouraged to establish a routine of eating three meals and two snacks a day which is important to meet the nutrient requirements. However, there are many factors that could lead to nutritional deficiencies in toddlers.

Apart from all the common development problems, Nutrition survey data and research found that due to improper lifestyle of their parents, screen time, food ads and rewarding foods like sweets and food environment will affect the long-term health, growth, and development of the child, leading to nutritional deficiencies in toddlers.

Signs of nutritional deficiencies in toddlers

There are signs of nutritional deficiencies in toddlers that can affect the development of a child. Here are the common signs of nutritional deficiencies in toddlers:

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to delayed speech.
  • Lack of probiotics in food and poor gut health can lead to hyperactivity.
  • Deficiency in essential fatty acids like vitamins A, D, E, and K can lead to dry skin and hair.
  • Poor gut health and a weak immune system can cause cold and cough.
  • Lack of protein and high saturated fat, salt, and sugar can also lead to obesity.
  • Loss of appetite or lack of interest in eating can be signs of an iron deficiency.

Also Read: 7 tips to handle a fussy eater and make your child eat healthy

Toddlers are fussy eaters, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Types of nutritional deficiencies in toddlers and their signs

Many toddlers are prone to common cold, cough, and other respiratory infections due to nutritional deficiencies in kids. It is important to provide a full range of nutrients that will help to maintain their immune system. Nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, vitamins A, D, E, K, C, and B fiber, probiotics, and phytonutrients for antioxidants are important. A diet containing food from 5 food groups, in the correct combination, will automatically provide sufficient amounts of each nutrient.

Here are the common nutritional deficiencies and their signs and sources you should know about:

1. Vitamin D

Severe vitamin D deficiency causes rickets and hinders the growth of toddlers. It is caused by vitamin D deficiency in mothers during pregnancy and lactation, lack of sunlight exposure for toddlers, spending more time looking at screens, eating a vegan diet, and specific food intolerances.

You can prevent vitamin D deficiency by including foods like fish, egg yolks, fortified cow’s milk, breakfast cereals, oils, milk, and products. Good exposure to sunlight (at least 15 minutes) by making them play outside would be sufficient.

2. Vitamin K

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin needed for blood clotting and to prevent blood disorders. Common signs of deficiencies are excessive bleeding and delayed clotting time, gut issues, and irritability. Breast milk is a poor source of Vitamin K, it is important to include foods like broccoli, green leafy vegetables, cabbage, cauliflower, and meat products.

3. Vitamin A

An important vitamin for your eyes that helps improve white blood cell synthesis, thereby boosting immunity. It also helps prevent night blindness, skin issues, and delays in growth. Some of the best sources of vitamin A include carrots, oranges, pumpkin, broccoli, milk and products, cheese, eggs, and capsicum.

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4. Iron

Iron is needed for red blood cell synthesis and it helps to prevent nutritional anemia in toddlers. Signs of iron deficiency include lack of appetite, irritability, tiredness and dizziness, and frequent infections. Some of the food sources that are high in iron are green leafy vegetables, ragi, cumin, beetroots, prunes, nuts and raisins, dried dates, eggs, fish, and chicken.

5. Calcium

A crucial mineral, calcium is required for maintaining healthy teeth and bone development. Signs of calcium deficiency cause bow legs, stunted growth, and sore or weak muscles. Some of the best sources of calcium include milk and milk products, soy products, dark leafy vegetables, millet, eggs, nuts and seeds, poppy seeds, etc.

Milk and other milk products are a good source of calcium. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

How to fight nutritional deficiencies in toddlers?

Here are some ways to tackle nutritional deficiencies in toddlers:

1. Pre-plan the nutrient-dense meals and include your child’s favourite foods.
2. Ensure all the 5 food groups are included in their daily diet.
3. Avoid buying packed and preserved foods while shopping and avoid giving unhealthy treats.
4. Be cautious about allergic foods like milk, eggs, peanuts, artificial colors, seafood, etc.
5. Make food more interesting for your kids. Change the utensil shape, color, and texture of food, try new recipes, and mix 2-3 ingredients together.
6. Avoid force feeding and slowly increase the quantity of food. Mandatory 2 small snacks like Yogurt, crackers with hummus, oats pancakes, sandwiches, paneer bhurji, makhana kheer, milk recipes, vegetable patties, etc.
7. Encourage eating while they are hungry and fix on the timing of meals.
Physical activity is a must to boost their metabolism and improve their appetite better.
8. Quality sleeping for 8-9 hours for better nutritional status.

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About the Author

Ms Haripriya N is the Executive Nutritionist at Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Chennai, T Nagar. She is a dietitian from the Indian Dietetic Association, clinically sound in managing medical conditions like Metabolic disorders (Obesity, PCOD, type 2 Diabetes Mellitus), type 1 Diabetes, Fertility, gestational diabetes mellitus, PIH, gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular conditions, Liver diseases, Renal conditions, and paediatrics with medical nutrition therapy. ...Read More

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