Healthy Growth, Kids & Teens

Nutrition for children

Whole books are written about feeding children the most supportive diet for their development, endless cook books are on the market encouraging parents to provide nutritious, popular food for their children. Without a doubt, better nutrition for any human results in better health and performance. Here we aim to address specific nutrients that must be considered to ensure optimal development for our children. Of course, we do not eat nutrients – we eat food, but looking at the significance of specific nutrients is one way to really drive home the importance of excellent nutrition for our kids. The ‘healthy eating’ message is so vital to your child’s physical, emotional and mental success that sometimes a bit of geeky science is what it takes………..

Before we get to the detail, it is necessary to state some considerations that may be stopping your child from being well nourished – even if they are actually eating enough healthy food within a balanced diet:

  • Junk food DEPLETES the body of nutrients, extra vitamins and minerals are needed to process the poisons found in processed foods, the sugar in sweets and refined snacks. All bodies work harder to get rid of the unhealthy choices that enter the body – including the bodies of children. These foods actually increase the need for good nutrition.
  • If a child suffers from poor digestion, no amount of good food will enable him or her to be well nourished. A healthy, effective digestive system is the only way that any child can absorb the nutrients in their food – if they are there in the first place.
  • Check out our article on the right foods to eat.

Key nutrients to consider for your children include:


Our most measurable indicator of our children’s heath, especially when they are very young is how well they are growing. Mothers attend ‘weigh ins’ for their children, these are used by the healthcare profession to check how well the children are developing. Poor growth in children is associated with ill health in later life, lower achievement in school and ability to work and poor reproductive function1. Poor growth can be associated with small nutritional deficiencies, zinc and iron have both been found to be critical for growth in children2. A review of controlled trials that have studied the effect of supplementing zinc conclude that where children are suffering from slow growth, zinc supplementation produces ‘highly significant positive responses in height and weight’3.

Zinc is not only vital for growth, but also for cell replication, it forms part of our genes and can influence their expression2. Zinc is also vital to our immunity and has antioxidant properties. Zinc deficiency lowers the ability of young children to fight infections such as diarrhoea and lower respiratory tract infections e.g. the cold season4.

Good sources of zinc include: Oysters, roast beef, crab, sardines, pumpkin and sesame seeds, eggs and cheese


There is widespread childhood iron deficiency in the UK5. Toddlers6, preschool children7 and adolescents6 are all at particular risk of iron deficiency. Iron deficiency is associated with poor physical and mental development in children8, has been associated with attention deficit disorders9 and is well known to lower immunity10. The UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition highlighted links between iron supplementation and better mental performance in older children who are low in iron11.

Good sources of iron for children include: fortified cereals, lean, good quality meat, fish, dried fruit in particular apricots and dark green leafy vegetables. Iron is absorbed into the body with the help of Vitamin C, found in fruit and vegetables. Vitamin C is one of a number of vital antioxidants, these recycle each other in the body, therefore optimal levels of Vitamin C, A, E plus Zinc and Selenium are best for overall health and to ensure adequate Vitamin C for iron absorption. The NHS recommend that all children from 6 months to 5 years old are given supplements containing Vitamins A,C and D12.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency in British children has been repeatedly highlighted in the press13, in the UK people who are at risk including pregnant women and children under 5 are already advised to supplement by the UK government. Vitamin D plays a vital role in the growth of bones by stimulating the absorption of Calcium, which makes the up majority of bone. This is especially important for children and adolescents who should build up their bone reserves for later in life, when bone mass and density begins to fall14. In fact the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases say: “Up to 90 percent of peak bone mass is acquired by age 18 in girls and by age 20 in boys, which makes youth the best time to “invest” in one’s bone health.”14 Vitamin D is made in the skin, for more information on this read vitmain d for children. Food sources of Vitamin D include: fortified cereals, oily fish, dairy products and egg yolk. Be aware that frying fish significantly lowers the amount of active Vitamin D content by approximately 50%, baking does not have this effect15.


Children need high levels of calcium in their diet to enable their bones to grow, so great is this demand that children need 700mg a day between ages 1-3, 1000mg a day from 4-8 years old and 1300mg a day from 9-1816 – adults need 1000mg! Calcium is also important for heart health, healthy muscles and nerves and for hormones, but the vast majority is for teeth and bones. The majority of British teenagers do not meet the minimum dietary requirements17. 45% of the calcium consumed by children is from milk or milk products, 28% from cereal based foods e.g. breakfast cereals17. Other good sources of calcium include: almonds, canned fish and green vegetables.

Omega 3

Children need fats, they not only provide them with energy but the health promoting types of fats have vital roles including: brain development and function18, making sure that nerves relay messages, maintaining healthy heart health and also keeping their immune systems in balance. Our children are not eating enough fish! The government National Diet and Nutrition Survey, published in 2010 found that children and adults in the UK are still eating well below the recommended one portion of oily fish a week. One portion of oily fish is 140g, but the average quantity eaten by a child in the UK is just 14g! 10% of the recommended quantity19! Supplementation with Omega 3 during pregnancy has been shown to benefit the IQ of their children, measured when they are 4 years old20 and omega 3 consumption has been shown to improve academic performance of children21. A study of school children suffering from ‘development coordination disorders’ in Durham demonstrated improvements in behaviour, concentration, reading and spelling22. Improvements in asthmatic symptoms have also been suggested in research through lower Omega 6 and increased Omega 3 in the diets of children23. Check out our info graphic on omega 3 foods


It has been shown that taking vitamin and mineral supplements does increase nutrient intakes for children aged 2-17 years old5 and you may wish to considered as part of dietary changes to improve the health and wellbeing of our children. The government survey on the diet and nutrition of the UK population found that there have been several improvements to the diets of children however the progress is slow and there is still much to do. Of course an optimally healthy diet is the best option for children, but we all know how hard that can be to implement. If you feel that you are struggling, look out for a children’s multi vitamin and mineral supplement that contains 100% RDA of the nutrients mentioned above as a minimum and consider supplementing with Omega 3. If you are not sure whether you need to buy supplements Should I give my children vitamin supplements?

Please be aware that using supplements for children must be done with caution.  It is because supplements contain active ingredients that really influence what is going on in your body that you must be careful to consult a health professional before using them.  Any medicine can interact with specific vitamin and mineral supplements.  It is therefore vital to speak to your doctor about using supplements if your child has any underlying illness. For an individual tailored nutritional programme including supplements and food suggestions we advise that you consult a healthcare professional or nutritionist.


1 Rosado JL. 1999, Separate and joint effects of micronutrient deficiencies on linear growth. Journal of Nutrition, 129:531

2 Salqueiro MJ, Zubillaga MB, Lysionek AE, Caro RA, Weill R, Boccio JR, 2002, The role of Zinc in the growth and development of children, Nutrition, 18:510-519

3 Brown K, Peerson JM, Rivera J, Allen LH, 2002, Impact of supplemental zinc on the growth and serum zinc concentrations of prepubertal children: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 75:1062-1071

4 Aggarwal R, Sentz J, Miller MA, 2007, Role of Zinc Administration in Prevention of Childhood Diarrhea and Respiratory Illnesses: A Meta-analysis, Pediatrics, 119:1120-1130

5 Ruxton CHS, Derbyshire E, 2011, Diet adequacy in UK school children, Nutrition and Science, 41:20-33

6 Wharton BA, 2002, Iron Deficiency in Children: Detection and Prevention, British Journal of Haematology, 106:270-280

7 Gibson SA, 1999, Iron Intake and Iron Status of preschool children: associations with breakfast cereals, vitamin c and meat, Public Health Nutrition, 2:521-528

8 Zlotin S, 2003, Clinical Nutrition: 8. The role of nutrition in the prevention of iron deficiency anemia in infants, children and adolescents, Canadian Medical Association Journal, 168:59-63

9 Konofal E, Lecendreux M, Arnulf I, Mouren M-C, 2004, Iron Deficiency in Children with Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity disorder, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 158:1113-1115

10 Macdougall LG, Anderson R, McNab GM, Katz J, 1975, The immune response in iron-deficient children: Impaired cellular defense mechanisms with altered humoral components, The Journal of Pediatrics, 86:833-843

11 Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, 2009, Iron and Health, The Stationary Office,

12 NHS Choices, Do I need Vitamin supplements? Retrieved


14 Kids and Their Bones: A Guide for Parents, National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, retrieved 01.03.11 from You can also order this as a booklet free of charge.

15 Madhusmita M, Pacaud D, Petryk A, Collett-Solberg PF, Kappy M, 2008, Vitamin D Deficiency in children and Its Managment: Review of Current Knowledge and Recommendations, Pediatrics, 122:122-138

16Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Calcium, Office of Dietary Supplements retrieved

17 More J, 2008, Children’s bone health and meeting Calcium needs, Journal of Family Health Care, 18:22-24

18 Ruxton CHS, Reed SC, Simpson MJA, Millington KJ, 2004, The health benefits of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: a review of the evidence, Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 17:449-459

19 Bates B, Lennox A, Swan G, 2010, National Diet and Nutrition Survey ,

Headline results from Year 1 of the Rolling Programme (2008/2009) retrieved

20 Helland IB, Smith L, Saarem K, Saugstad OD, Crevon CA, 2003, Maternal Supplementation with Very-Long-Chain n-3 Fatty acids during Pregnancy and Lactation Augments Childrens IQ at 4 years of Age, Pediatrics, 111:39-44

21 Ells L J, Hillier FC, Summerbell CD,  Shucksmith J, Crawley H, Harbige L, Shield J, Wiggins A, 2006,
A systematic review of the effect of nutrition, diet and dietary change on learning, education and performance of children of relevance to UK schools, (Project Code: N05070), retrieved Government Report,

22 Portwood M, 2006, The Role of Dietary Fatty Acids in Children’s Behaviour and Learning, Nutrition and Health, 18:219-232

23 Oddy WH, deKlerk NH, Kendall GE, Mihrshahi S, Peat JK, 2004, Ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 Fatty acids and Childhood Asthma, Journal of Asthma, 41:319-326

Disclaimer: Seven Seas Life is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The articles are based on peer reviewed research, and discoveries/products mentioned in the articles may not be approved by our regulatory bodies, you will find no mention of Seven Seas products within the pages of the Seven Seas Life Section..Read more

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