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Remembering back to days of my youth, I recall not being a huge fan of this time of year. It's quite chilly, gets dark way too early, the holiday season is done and the countdown to Spring Break seems out of reach. What was there to look forward to in the foreseeable future of a 10 year old?
Often, this time of the year results in activities shifting to primarily indoors – which can in turn create issues with your children’s vitamin D status. Vitamin D prevents chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, hypertension and some cancers and it is also essential for the absorption of calcium. It can be linked to bone health when coupled with calcium and phosphorus as well as carrying a role in reduced inflammation and regulation of cell growth. It is produced in the body through conversions from sunlight as well as collected from the foods you consume. Just 30 minutes a day for most individuals is a great source of vitamin D on a normal day, but with this winter weather and reduction of daily sunlight, those recommendations alter considerably. Now, you might be thinking – my kid is 4, how is this relevant? Are you sure you’re not writing this article about me, the parent?
Well yes and no. Parents, you too should have knowledge of your vitamin D level and be competent of how you can maintain or increase your level. But we’re talking about the kids. With this information, you all, as a team, can first and foremost say D is not for Deficient in our family! Vitamin D deficiency in children can cause rickets – something that up until recently hasn’t been seen primarily in the US for some time. Rickets is a failure of the bone tissue to mineralize adequately, resulting in softer bones then leading to deformities. Low levels of vitamin D can result in bone pain, weakness, depression, lack or halting of steady growth and exacerbation of asthmas symptoms in children.
In a 2009 study from Pediatrics, it was reported that 9% of the pediatric population, or 7.6 million US children and adolescents were considered vitamin D deficient, while 61%, or 50.8 million US children and adolescents were considered insufficient. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), insufficient is classified with levels from 12-20 ng/ml, while deficient is considered below12 ng/ml. Ideally, the NIH recommends above 20 ng/ml as being adequate for ideal bone and overall health of your child. If your child has been found to have lower calcium levels, running a vitamin D test is something your pediatrician might be interested in doing to determine further intervention.
Where do you find vitamin D? The best source is fatty fish. Your kid isn’t a fan of salmon yet? Hmm, don’t stress. You can also do canned tuna, cheese, egg yolks, mushrooms and then there are fortified foods. These fortified foods include things like milk (ever heard of vitamin D milk – aka whole milk?), yogurts and cereals. For most children I’ve met, these three categories of foods are the mecca for their daily intake. There is hope!
Kid Friendly, Vitamin D approved menu options
1. Lasagna – loaded with mozzarella and ricotta cheese, add some chopped or pureed mushrooms depending on your children’s preferences and you’ve got a vitamin D feast for the family!
2. Bust out the eggs – whip up an omelet or frittata. Add in cheese, mushrooms, maybe some canned tuna or salmon. You can also consider some green veggies – which are high in calcium.
3. Simple suggestions – take advantage of fortified foods! Do milk and cereal for breakfast or a snack. Add yogurt and cheese sticks to lunches. Get them hooked on tuna fish and crackers. Or just go the simple method and drink milk – however, watch the fat content. Whole milk is great when weaned from breast milk, but around age 3, consider switching to 2% or lower to monitor fat intake.
Recommended Dietary Allowance for Vitamin D
0-12 months of age 400 IU or 10 mcg
1 year of age + 600 IU or 15 mcg
600 IU/day remains consistent past 1 years of age until about age 70 or during pregnancy. If adequate intake is unable to come from food sources, supplementation can be taken. However, consult with your pediatrician if this is a path you are taking to consider all medical and safety issues.
So despite this cold, blustery winter – do your kids a quick favor and taken them out for bits of sunshine throughout the days as possible. Even a few minutes here and there can make all the difference and while you’re all sitting and waiting for that first sign of spring – in the meantime, make up the difference in the kitchen!