Paying proper attention to children’s nutrition is important not only for the health of children in the present, but also for the future. From the time of pregnancy and then during the first years of children’s lives, it is the parents who have the responsibility to educate the children to a balanced and healthy lifestyle that consists in the correct balance between daily motor activity and a diet that includes all the necessary macro and micronutrients. We talk about proteins, carbohydrates and fats, but also about fiber, minerals and vitamins.
To understand what the role of vitamins is for children and what a deficiency in their diet means, we interviewed Professor Giovanni Corsello, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Palermo and former president of the Italian Society of Paediatrics.
The Role Of Vitamins For Children: Why They Are Important
Vitamins for children play a fundamental role because they allow full functionality and development of the body. They act on many different organs and systems and, above all, they are substances, like other nutrients, that the human body is not able to synthesize on its own. This is why we must take them from the outside, mainly through food or, only in cases where the doctor indicates it, through other sources of integration.
“Whether they are found in the blood, nervous system, muscles, liver or kidneys – explains Professor Corsello – all the cells of the body need these small supplements that ensure the functioning of cellular metabolism.
Children, even more than adults, have a particular need for vitamins because their metabolism is more intense, they are in the growth phase and they need a greater quantity of certain substances to help them in their development. “In fact, they are also more fragile, so they need the integration of vitamins into the diet.” And we are not referring to a pharmacological addition, but first and foremost to a food plan that is rich in these micronutrients.
What Are Vitamins For?
Each vitamin performs different functions and works on multiple cells. “They are a real cornerstone of the diet – adds the paediatrician – because very often they work in harmony with certain minerals such as iron, zinc, calcium, phosphorus, creating a combined action that ensures good functionality of the various organs and apparatus.
Currently 13 vitamins are recognized:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B1
- Vitamin B2
- Vitamin B3
- Vitamin B5
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B7
- Vitamin B9
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K.
Let’s see, therefore, are the functions of the main vitamins and how to ensure a proper intake in children.
Vitamin D, Which Is Essential From The Very Beginning Of Breastmilk
“Vitamin D – explains Professor Corsello – is already found in breast milk and is essential for the absorption of calcium, phosphorus in the intestine and for deposition in the bones. It guarantees the correct growth and development of bone, which will remain a legacy to children throughout the developmental age up to adulthood: “the quantity and quality of this micronutrient in the first years of life, affects the integrity of the skeletal structure in later ages. The respondent adds that vitamin D also intervenes in other mechanisms such as at the level of the immune system, helping the body to resist.
Group B Vitamins To Support Energy Metabolism
Although they differ in various types, we consider the B vitamins as a whole and the respondent explains how they serve to ensure the proper energy metabolism of blood cells, but not only. “If there is not enough of them in the body, the cells function poorly more slowly, so the body has less capacity to resist infections or to renew the mucous membranes or skin cells that challenge each other. This is how anaemia can appear, which is an expression of the body’s difficulty in regenerating tissues due to vitamin deficiency.
Vitamin B12 From Pregnancy Onwards To Protect The Brain
From this point of view, vitamin B12 is fundamental, which favours and guarantees the development of the bone marrow, from which the patrimony of red and white blood cells is determined and, consequently, the entire system of movement and management of oxygen, vital for survival. “In addition, the B12 vitamins, which we take through various types of foods from breast milk to foods of plant and animal origin, also interact with the functioning of certain groups of neurons. A fundamental detail, as Professor Corsello explains: “even the mother, during pregnancy and breastfeeding, must be adequate in terms of supply of this vitamin, the deficiency of which can cause serious neurological problems.
An Immune System Support With Vitamin C
“Vitamin C, on the other hand, protects cells from oxidation, i.e. from damage that can be caused by external substances. It is a real protection mechanism that cells need to prevent them from being eliminated more quickly by contact with other agents.
Skin, Eyes, Blood Clotting And Other Vitamin Functions
Finally, vitamin K is, for example, important to promote proper blood clotting which, in the event of a deficiency in early life, can give rise to a risk of bleeding.
Vitamins A and E, on the other hand, are essential for the integrity of the skin and the skin, as well as the liver: “an inadequate supply, adds the interviewee, can promote the emergence of a skin condition, infections and disorders in liver function.
Overall, all vitamins play a role in the overall protection of the body, especially in childhood, cannot be underestimated.
Vitamin Deficiency In Children: What Does It Mean?
Precisely because they are so important, we ask Professor Corsello to investigate the possible consequences of a lack of vitamins, which is not a possibility so rare nowadays in Italy. “In the early years of life, there are risks of nutritional deficiencies that can often go unnoticed. We are surprised to discover that a child who swallows too many calories a day may not have enough nutrients, but it is. We live in the paradox of having overweight children or children at risk of obesity who have deficiencies of iron or vitamins, in particular those of the group B and C.”
The consequences can vary and depend on the type of vitamin that is deficient in the body:
- rickets pictures
- ossification delay
- brittle bones
- recurrent infections
- slower growth
- recurrent respiratory diseases.
“These repeated infections are quite frequent and worrying – adds the interviewee – because many children, in the early years of life, especially in the winter months and on the occasion of peculiar epidemic contexts such as nurseries or schools, encounter infections with a greater probability. If there is a vitamin deficiency, the body is more susceptible and the defense mechanisms are less efficient. The result is that infections can be more severe and more frequent.
There are also cases in which the deficiency of a certain vitamin is predictable and it is therefore important to know them to prevent them. The paediatrician refers, for example, to premature babies who need more vitamin C, D and E than other babies. “They serve to promote a greater deposit of calcium and phosphorus in the bones, which normally occurs in large prevalence in the last trimester of pregnancy, just what is missing with an early birth. Recovering this deficiency is possible: the paediatrician suggests, for example, that throughout the first year of life units of vitamin D administered to the child are doubled compared to the others.
“Another case in which integration is necessary is that of twins, or of children who cannot be breastfed for a long time”. The paediatrician will monitor the situation and provide parents with suitable advice for the best development of their children.
How To Ensure The Correct Intake Of Vitamins For Children
Avoiding a vitamin deficiency and its possible consequences, which we have seen, is a fundamental need to which you can respond in two ways. On the one hand, in fact, Dr. Corsello focuses on adequate control of nutrition, stimulating parents to ensure that the child makes meals in line with his nutritional needs. On the other hand, there are documented cases of deficiency where the treating paediatrician can propose a specific addition for a given period of time.
“The issue that is most important to me, when it comes to nutrition education, is prevention: I find it essential to share with the paediatrician the need for children in the early years of life to follow an adequate diet both in quantity and quality. A balance that is achieved in an all-encompassing diet, which includes food of plant origin and food of animal origin. “Also because – the interviewee points out – proteins are everywhere!
Professor Corsello draws attention to the importance of accustoming children from an early age to eat foods of vegetable origin that must be present from weaning through fruit and vegetables and, subsequently, with legumes. “This cannot replace the administration of foods of animal origin: meat, dairy products and, later on during weaning, also fish and eggs because the integration serves to ensure the adequate intake of nutrients that serve to a rapidly growing organism. Equally important is to pay attention to the safety of the food that is supplied to children: the presence, in fact, of pollutants can have a toxic effect or inhibit the function of some micronutrients.
As mentioned, vitamins are found in all foods: some more in foods of plant origin, others more in foods of animal origin. “It is true that vitamin C, for example, is mainly found in fresh fruit and vegetables, but these foods are crucial to the diet of children because the plant fibers promote the development of microbial flora, what is called intestinal microbiota, important because it modulates the absorption of nutrients, promotes motility and maturation of the intestinal mucosa, improving nutrition globally. This function, which is called “probiotic effect”, is increasingly important because there are several studies that show how it improves the immune response and reduces the risk of developing chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease.
There are many factors that, together, contribute to a healthy growth of children. “The correct diet should be combined with early and daily motor activity, from pre-school age if possible,” concludes Professor Corsello. Moving promotes protective metabolism, counteracts the tendency to accumulate, and is an integral part of a health strategy applied by the whole family. This is the same approach that led UniSalute to propose two health policies called Family Protection, one for adults and the other for children and young people aged 4 to 17 years. The latter, in particular, is designed to accompany children in this delicate phase of growth both from the point of view of food and, more globally, in the lifestyle. This is achieved through free checks, counselling and dietary courses, and physiotherapy treatments, including in the event of an accident. Do you already know what it covers?