Essential Nutrients to Help Your Child Thrive
Hello Dope Moms and Dope Dads! My name is Delia Mota and I am a Registered Holistic Nutritionist who works with children, parents and families to help them live a vibrant life.
There has been an alarming rise in allergies, asthma, learning disabilities and conditions like ADD/ADHD among children. The more I research, the more I realize that nutrition and lifestyle are the foundation of your health. I often work with families who have children with ADD/ADHD, but am branching out to include pre-conception, pregnancy and postnatal nutrition for mama and baby. It is becoming increasingly important to educate yourself on nutrition early on in your parenting journey. It is vital to make sure that you are fueling both you and your baby’s body with the right nutrients to thrive.
I know it can be hard to decipher what you should be eating and what supplements you should be taking. You may not get all the answers you are looking for at the doctor’s office and the Internet constantly bombards you with so much information it can be overwhelming. Enter a Holistic Nutritionist, I am here to help guide you! Remember, everyone is biochemically individual and what works for one person may not work for another. That being said, here are some of the most important nutrients you need to thrive. These are some of the key nutrients moms need to thrive while they are pregnant and breastfeeding. What you eat is ultimately what nourishes your little babe. As your baby grows, they also need these nutrients to develop and grow into healthy children.
Let’s get started.
Iron is an integral component of hemoglobin, a protein which helps the red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to your entire body. If your child is being breastfed, around the 4 - 6 month mark, breast milk doesn’t have enough iron to fuel your growing baby’s needs. It is crucial to start including iron-rich foods once you start to introduce solids.
There are two types of iron:
- Heme iron: This is the most easily absorbed form. It is commonly found in animal protein.
- Non-heme iron: This form comes from plant sources like legumes, whole grains and vegetables. However, it is harder for your body to absorb non-heme sources.
Make sure to eat a variety of iron-rich foods, especially if you are a vegetarian or vegan. Annually checking your child’s iron levels is important because sometimes supplementation is required. To help your body absorb iron, pair it with vitamin C rich foods like oranges, bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries and tomatoes.
Sources: Meat, poultry, fish, seafood, dark leafy greens, whole grains, eggs, liver, nuts, beans and legumes.
Zinc is a cofactor for up to 300 enzymes in the body, so it’s safe to say that it is pretty important. It is especially vital in building a healthy immune system and the development of your child’s brain. One of the best ways to support their immune system is to make sure that your child is getting enough zinc. This is becoming a more common deficiency because of our depleted soils and the increase in consumption of refined carbohydrates and processed foods.
Sources: Animal protein; seeds like pumpkin, hemp and sesame; nuts; legumes like lentils, chickpeas, black beans; whole grains like quinoa, wild rice, oatmeal; peas; mushrooms.
Choline is a nutrient that is necessary for healthy cell membranes and it is essential for the development of the brain and nervous system. It is a component of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in memory function and infant brain development. Basically, it helps your growing child remember and learn new functions. Some choline can be made by the body, but you need dietary sources to get adequate amounts.
Sources: Egg yolks; fish and seafood like shrimp, scallops, cod, salmon; poultry; liver; vegetables like collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, swiss chard, brussel sprouts, asparagus, spinach.
The sunshine vitamin! Unfortunately, since we live in Canada this has become one of the most deficient vitamins in our bodies. Since very few foods contain vitamin D and our winters are long and dark, supplementation is often essential, at least during the winter months. Many people don’t know this, but Vitamin D is actually a hormone and plays an important role in the endocrine system. It also helps your body absorb calcium, build strong bones and teeth, and supports the immune system. If you are looking to supplement, speak to a healthcare professional to get more info on supplement dosages.
ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS
Essential Fatty Acids like omega-3 and omega-6, are called essential because they can’t be made by the body. The only way of getting these important nutrients is through your diet, and you need to get the right balance. They are integral components of your cell membranes and are also key players in the formation, structure and function of your neurotransmitters. What are neurotransmitters? They are your serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, etc...they regulate your mood, motivation, focus, and sleep. As you can see they are pretty important.
Since omega-6 is in abundance in our modern diet, I am going to focus on the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid superstar. As a pregnant mama, you may have heard the words ALA, EPA and DHA, well they are important components of omega-3’s. They are highly concentrated in the brain and they provide anti-inflammatory benefits while supporting the structure and functions of your brain. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is vital during pregnancy and early childhood, so make sure you and your baby are getting enough.
I’m not going to lie, in order to get direct sources of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA you basically need to eat fatty fish. I call it the SMASH fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring). I know that this is not everyone’s cup of tea and that is why supplementation has its place.
You can also get some omega 3’s from plant sources like chia seeds, hemp hearts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds. These are great to include in your diet, especially for their fibre and diversity of nutrients. However, it is worth noting that it is often difficult for the body to convert adequate amounts of EPA and DHA from plant sources.
This is your fat, protein and carbohydrates. It is essential to get a variety of all 3 in your child’s diet. Often carbohydrates takes the lead, but protein and fat are actually the most important macronutrients in the early development of your baby. Breast milk is largely comprised of fat and protein, so these are the enzymes your baby has developed to break down food. The main enzyme to digest carbohydrates is amylase and this isn’t fully developed in infants until they are approximately 16 months old. That is why many schools of thought suggest waiting to introduce certain grains until their digestive system is more fully developed, and to have first foods lean towards healthy fats and proteins. I will leave it at that since this is a topic with a lot of debate and it really deserves its own blog post.
There are thousands of different phytonutrients and they support your body in so many different ways. They can act as antioxidants, they can have anti-inflammatory benefits, they can protect our cells from oxidative damage, and they can even support the immune system. The best way to get a diversity of phytonutrients is to EAT THE RAINBOW! Each colour has its own category of benefits and you need to eat all the colours to get the full spectrum of health benefits. Next time you eat, check your plate and count how many different colours are on it.
This is a great base of knowledge to get your started. I know it may be a little bit of information overload! If you have any questions feel free to message me on instagram (@delia.mota), Dope Moms Facebook group, or you can contact me on my website (www.deliamota.com). You can also follow along for healthy family recipes.
If you enjoyed this topic, join me and Dope Moms on Tuesday, November 6 at 2:00 pm where we will be going LIVE to dive deeper on nutrition tips to raise healthy and happy kiddos!
Delia Mota, R.H.N.
Registered Holistic Nutritionist