what to do for cradle cap?- some home remedies to helpRead More
Recent Blog Posts
“Should I give my child a multi vitamin?” This is one of the most common questions I get asked from moms. It’s often at a well child visit, wanting to know how to improve picky eating or also it comes up at sick visits when a child gets numerous colds and coughs and parents like you may feel their child is sick “all the time” and want to know how to “boost their immune systems” to prevent them from missing school.
As a pediatrician, kids health and well being is of utmost importance to me. Why? Not only do I want to keep children safe and care for them if they get common childhood conditions like ear infections, strep throat, eczema, and broken bones but I also want to teach parents (and kids) what they can do to control their health now and to drastically improve wellness as they got older by preventing obesity, diabetes, heart disease and so much more. A big portion of this is by instilling habits of good nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices.
Are vitamins a quick fix for most healthy kids? The short answers is no. If your child is eating a variety of foods and is not on a restricted diet, then extra vitamin supplementation is not needed. Can they hurt? A one a day multi vitamin for extra insurance won’t do harm (except the expense) but mega dosing on vitamins particularly fats soluble vitamins like ADEK that can build up in the body can cause toxicity. So more is definitely not always better. In addition, giving a vitamin supplement is not an assurance or a pass for your child to then eat unhealthy processed snacks and fast food. The biggest issues and concerns with the average kid’s diet is NOT the lack of vitamins (as even sugary cereals are fortified with vitamins) but that a typical western diet is low in fiber, fruits and vegetables and high in added sugar and unhealthy fats.
That said, here are 3 nutrients to know about that are often lacking and could use a boost in many children’s diet.
Iron – This is one of the most common deficiencies in kids of all ages particularly preemies, breast fed babies, toddlers who drink a lot of milk, growing teens and girls who menstruate. Low iron can affect neurological development. It can lead to iron deficiency anemia (a low blood hemoglobin level) this can cause a child to be pale, low energy, tired, headache and fatigue. There are many sources of foods rich in iron. Heme iron is a great source which is found in meats, turkey, chicken, liver, eggs and fish. There is also non-heme iron that’s is plant based in foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, seeds, and dried fruits. Here’s an important tip, non heme iron will be absorbed better if eaten at the same time as some vitamin C. So serve together beans with sliced tomatoes, or even broccoli and bell peppers to dip in hummus.
Vitamin D - This is a fat soluble vitamin that is needed for bone growth and development and to prevent a disease called Rickets. You may be aware that the body can make vitamin D, however sunlight is needed so depending on where you live, the amount of sun exposure, the season and even how much sunscreen your child wears they probably still need to ingest some sources of Vitamin D. Breastfed babies need additional Vitamin D as it is not as readily absorbed from breastmilk If you have questions or concerns speak with your pediatrician. For older children food sources of vitamin D include fish such as salmon, beef, liver and eggs as well as fortified foods such as many dairy products including milk and yogurt , non-dairy milk (soy, almond) and many cereals are fortified too.
Calcium – This is a mineral also important for strong bones and teeth as well as for functioning of muscles heart and the nervous system. Dairy products (cheese, yogurt and milk) as well as non-dairy milks are very good sources of calcium. Tip- when serving fortified nondairy milks, make sure to shake well as the calcium needs to be dispersed throughout before pouring otherwise it settles at the bottom of the container. Other no dairy sources include seafood, dark green leafy vegetables, tofu, legumes, almonds and dried fruit. Lastly many cereals and breads are fortified with calcium as well.
Looking at your child’s overall diet for the week rather than just each day may be a better way to assess what they are eating and the nutrient value. A food diary for a week often can help clarify and you may be pleasantly surprised that with added nutritious snacks, your child may be meeting their nutritional requirements. Reach out to your pediatrician if you still have concerns about your child’s overall diet. They can evaluate and determine with you if added supplementation is needed.
Heart Health in Kids
I was inspired to write this as February is American Heart Month to remind everyone that heart health really starts in childhood to avoid cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity and diabetes. Kids today have developed so many bad health habits that they are facing heart attacks in their 30s. Many experts predict they will be the first generation to have a lower life expectancy than their parents. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Parents like you have a great influence over your kid’s habits. By modeling the behaviors as well as instilling positive habits, you can make a huge different in your child’s health. It’s all about establishing good habits and breaking the bad ones early on. Our habits from childhood continue into our adult lives and can have a huge impact on our overall health more so than just our genetics. So let’s not wait, here are some tips to improve heart health as well as avoid other chronic diseases.
Move it- Daily exercise is a must. For kids at least an hour a day of heart pumping movement. Childhood is a great time to try out different activities and sports, whether team or solo to find a good fit. For kids rotating activities and sports is preferable to avoid over use injuries in growing bones, joints ligaments and muscles. The idea is those kids that are active in childhood will continue to seek out physical fitness as adults. I was into dance and gymnastics as a child but now bicycling, and pilates are more my speed. It doesn’t really matter what activity you do, as long as you get your muscles fired up, strengthening, improving balance and get your heart rate up -to help combat chronic diseases like osteoporosis, heart disease and improve mood. Remember family activities like walking the dog, raking leaves, and free play at the playground all count too!
More Plants – Eating a diet that is predominately plant based (fruits, veggies, whole grains) and less emphasis on protein from meat is a great way to keep healthy . It provides loads of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants as well as lots of fiber to keep you full and regulate your sugar levels. Parents are always concerned about kids getting enough protein but in general, kids get more than even necessary on a daily basis whether it be meat, eggs, dairy, poultry, fish) Opt for smaller portions and instead pile on the fruits and veggies. Make those side dishes the main event! In addition limit cured, smoked and fried foods and opt for kids getting used to steamed, baked and sautéed foods.
Ditch Desserts- A common error with kids is too start a habit that a meal ends with dessert. Forget the sweets after dinner, you should end feeling adequate and full from the food on your plate. If hungry a few hours later, first drink a glass of water or even milk. If need be give a snack that’s healthy and avoid the highly processed, sugary laden snacks. Save those for more special occasions rather than daily treats. Another tip is portion control. I have an ice cream loving family so trade off between frozen fruit treats and ice cream and in addition portion control is key to feeling satisfied and avoiding binge eating from deprivation. Serve a small single cupful of ice cream rather than ordering a large 2-3 scoops. Your kids will still be happy😊
Chat with Your Child- Though it may seem like your kid tunes you out or doesn’t want to hear what you have to say, start early and keep talking about dangers and risky behaviors of smoking. Kids who’s parents talk about drugs and alcohol are 42 percent less likely to use substances than those whose parents don’t. And I know as a pediatrician its not enough to just ask about cigarette use, you must discuss E-cigarettes which now are all the rage and extremely addictive. The most common brand is JUUL that comes in enticing fruity flavors, and each one pod contains as much nicotine as a full pack of cigarettes! I am seeing teens who are using and can’t stop- they quickly become jittery, develop headaches, anxiety and nervousness, diarrhea and difficulty concentrating. The other chemical carcinogens as well as nicotine are dangerous to the developing brain long term. And it appears those kids that start off with e-cigarette use “just for fun” end up using regular tobacco cigarettes at a much higher rate than kids who do not vape. Let your kids learn the facts from you and help them stay healthy now and avoid heart disease and lung cancer later on.
Preventive Care Visits- Show your kids you care about their health and your own. Make sure to schedule family annual physical exams with your physicians and stay up to date on immunizations, routine lab tests and physical examinations to ensure your health is on track. Prevention is key to avoiding chronic disease. Its also a great time to get specific advice from your doctor if you have a concern or there is a family history of a certain disease. Partnering with your family doctor or pediatrician, asking questions and being a role model will help your kids stay connected to the health system as they become young adults and in charge of their health. Remember starting them down the right path with good health habits can make all the difference now and into their future.