Which nutrients ensure rapid growth

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Can sufficient vitamin D protect against type 1 diabetes?

The Children's Health Foundation provides information about the essential components of healthy child nutrition. Children grow quickly - especially in preschool and puberty. For this rapid build-up, they need a lot of energy-rich food and important nutrients. It depends on the right composition of the diet to guarantee undisturbed growth and long-term health.

The Munich pediatrician and nutrition expert Professor Dr. Berthold Koletzko, Chairman of the Children's Health Foundation, explains the complex relationships using an example: "For the formation of stable, strong bones, the child's organism primarily needs calcium and phosphorus. The most important source for this is milk. For building bones and for The body also needs vitamin D to supply the heart muscles and the nervous system with calcium, either from milk or from fish, egg yolk, liver, butter or margarine, and from the sun: its ultraviolet rays ensure that vitamin D is built up in the skin ".

Calcium for bones and teeth

The supply of calcium, however, seems to be becoming more and more problematic. Many families' diets are now lower in calcium than they used to be. Fast food and soft drinks have supplanted milk and dairy products, the main sources of calcium. Studies at the Research Institute for Child Nutrition FKE in Dortmund have shown that around a third of children do not get as much calcium as would be important according to the recommendations of the German Nutrition Society.

While babies and preschoolers usually still have a sufficient supply of calcium, this is less and less the case as the children get older. Parents of older children may believe that milk and everything that can be made with it is only really important for young children.

For a long time it was believed that calcium alone was enough for healthy bones and teeth to develop. But calcium needs the vitamin D as a companion so that it can be sufficiently absorbed in the bones. Vitamin D is (together with the so-called parathyroid hormone) the most important cog in the complicated calcium metabolism. It increases the absorption of calcium from food and promotes the storage of calcium salts in the bones.

It seems as if the sun vitamin can do even more: There are increasing indications of a strengthening of the immune system and a low risk of respiratory infections. The results of a study that followed the health of children over 31 years of age are particularly impressive. Children who received adequate amounts of vitamin D as babies had an 80 percent lower risk of developing type 1 diabetes later as adults.

"Unfortunately, the supply of vitamin D in Germany is in some cases considerably below the recommended values", regrets Professor Koletzko: "Most children and adolescents beyond infancy fall well below the values ​​advocated by international specialist bodies for vitamin D intake. Particularly low vitamin D levels are measured in 11 to 13-year-old girls and 14 to 17-year-old boys, that is, in a development phase that is particularly important for the growth and structure of the bones ".

The problem is: Significant amounts of the vitamin are only found in fatty sea fish (e.g. salmon, herring, mackerel, cod liver oil), in eggs or in milk. In order to meet the recommended daily requirement of between 400 and 800 I.E. of vitamin D, one would have to eat at least three to four fish meals per week (or at least 10 eggs per day).

Children in the sun, in the open air

The best recipe against vitamin D deficiency and the development of rickets would be daily sunbathing. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done in our part of the world, complains the Children's Health Foundation: In the winter months from November to February, UV-B radiation in northern and central Europe is generally too weak for the body to produce sufficient vitamin D desired to toast.

The nutrition commission of the German Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine DGKJ recently expanded its previous recommendations and demands: In future, not only babies, as before, but all children and adolescents in Germany should receive additional vitamin D3. In addition, the paediatricians should point out to the parents how useful it is for their children to be outdoors, at least half an hour a day, preferably with the head uncovered and arms and legs free.

Iron for muscles, blood and nerves

The mineral iron is just as indispensable for healthy growth. It is needed for the formation of blood and for the growth of muscles. "The body processes iron best from meat and meat products. Unfortunately, these foods are precisely what many children do not like to eat," explains Professor Koletzko. The result: In current studies from Bavaria, almost half of the children between the ages of seven and nine show significant deficits in their iron intake.

In the DONALD study by the Research Institute for Child Nutrition in Dortmund, children achieve an average of 80 to 90 percent of the recommended values ​​for iron supply, but this is only 75 percent among girls between the ages of ten and 18. However, the consequences of iron deficiency can be fatigue, anemia, muscle weakness and loss of appetite, warns the Children's Health Foundation.

Iodine for the hormonal balance

The natural trace element iodine, which enables the thyroid to work properly, is also one of the substances essential for health and growth. The thyroid is an important pacemaker for the organism.
Your two hormones, which require iodine for their work, determine the speed of the energy metabolism in the body. They control oxygen consumption, body temperature and muscle activity, stimulate growth and lower cholesterol levels. They also affect all other hormone-producing organs in the body.

Germany is one of the countries with the lowest iodine content in Europe: our drinking water, the plants growing here and the meat of the animals it feeds contain little of this vital trace element. Significant amounts of iodine are only found in sea fish, which are also good suppliers of vitamin D. In order to better prevent thyroid dysfunction, families in the household should use iodized table salt and, ideally, salt fortified with fluoride and folic acid. It is also important to buy baked goods and sausage products made with iodized salt.

Vitamins for strength and fitness

Most parents are aware of the importance of vitamins for healthy development. It becomes difficult, however, to encourage the children to eat vegetables and fruits rich in vitamins. The indication of how healthy it all is does not work: the children only notice that they should eat something they do not want.

Parents therefore often have to resort to tricks. An example: Many children prefer to eat raw vegetables than cooked ones. In such a case, there should always be some fruit or raw vegetables in the household, washed and in appetizing bites at an accessible height. A practical rule of thumb for the required amount of fruit and vegetables: Five children's hands full of fruit and vegetables spread over the day. For a four-year-old, for example, two small tomatoes, a few seedless grapes, two pieces of raw kohlrabi, half a banana, a piece of cucumber.

Unfortunately, many children do not even come close to the quantities determined by nutrition experts for optimal care for children and adolescents. Here are a few examples:

  • 22 percent of boys and 30 percent of girls of preschool age do not even get half the recommended amount of milk.
  • In almost all age groups, children do not eat enough plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruit, bread, potatoes and other carbohydrate-rich side dishes. For this, too much meat and therefore too much fat is consumed, especially with increasing age.

Most children fall below the D-A-CH reference values ​​recommended in German-speaking countries for vitamins D and E as well as for folate, fiber, calcium and iron (in girls), while meat consumption is relatively high and the fats consumed are unfavorable.

What more, what less?

The Children's Health Foundation recommends that all parents adhere to the following rules:

  • More plant-based foods, especially vegetables, fruits, breads and potatoes;
  • More wholemeal flour, bread, pasta or rice instead of light products. Bread should be sliced ​​thick and topped thinly;
  • More reduced fat dairy products instead of whole dairy products;
  • More low-fat sausages and meats instead of high-fat varieties;
  • Less fat and sugar-rich foods (edible fats, confectionery, snacks);
  • Children need a lot to drink, an average of five to six glasses of fluids a day. But please rather than tap water, mineral water or unsweetened fruit tea instead of over-sweetened soft drinks.
  • When cooking and frying, use rapeseed or olive oil instead of other oils and fats.

However, parents should resist the temptation to strictly control their children's eating habits, emphasizes Professor Koletzko. It is better to provide a balanced range of food.
It is then up to the child how much of it to eat. In this way, the child develops a natural feeling of hunger and satiety and this is the best prevention against overeating and obesity.

And one more thing: children learn about nutrition by imitating their parents. But the medal has two sides, the Children's Health Foundation points out: If the parents eat healthily, their child will (hopefully) take care of it too - but unfortunately it is exactly the same when the parents set a bad example.

Prevention is better than cure

That is why the Children's Health Foundation, founded in 1998, advocates improved health prevention, promotes the necessary research and the dissemination of scientifically proven information for doctors and families with children. Our commitment does not only apply to children with special health problems. The knowledge gained will benefit all children and their families.

This press release was sent via the - idw -.

last edited: 04/03/2012