For many parents, the barrage of information about different nutrients your child needs for optimal growth and development can sometimes add up to a confusing jumble of alphabet soup. After all, nutrition is just one of a hundred things you’re trying to tackle if you’re a typical multitasking (and who isn’t?) mom.
While a balanced diet which, includes a variety of foods is the best way to ensure your toddler’s nutrient needs are met, Vitamin D may be an exception, as it’s naturally present in very few foods and is emerging as an important nutrient for lifelong health.
Chances are you’ve heard that Vitamin D plays a key role in helping your toddler’s body absorb calcium and form strong teeth and bones and is the vitamin that helps to prevent rickets. However, research suggests that this may just scratch the surface as to why getting enough Vitamin D can help keep your toddler thriving as he or she grows into adulthood. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, in adults “new evidence suggests Vitamin D plays a vital role in maintaining immunity and has been implicated in the prevention of certain disease states including infection, autoimmune disease, some forms of cancer and type 2 diabetes.” And while more research is needed to tease out exactly how Vitamin D impacts heart disease, a new epidemiological study this year suggests that poor Vitamin D status in children may be associated with cardiovascular risk factors later in life. The study found that the children with the lowest Vitamin D levels had significantly higher blood pressure, waist circumference and inflammatory markers, plus lower levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol).1 More research is needed to correlate Vitamin D status with heart disease.
Considering this impressive roster of possible roles, the reason Vitamin D deserves a closer look is because it turns out most of us, including children, likely may find it difficult to obtain the recommended dietary intake. While there is still debate among the health community about just how much is enough for optimal health, there have been two recent proposed guidelines that should make moms take note. In 2008 The American Academy of Pediatrics doubled its previous requirement from 200 IUs/day to 400 IUs/day as the minimum daily intake for infants and children, and in 2010 the Institute of Medicine increased the recommendation for children ages 1-13 by 50%, up to 600 IU/day.
Chances are, you learned about Vitamin D in school as being cheerily nicknamed “the sunshine vitamin” because we can make it on our skin with 10-20 minutes of sun exposure per day. However, in reality many factors of modern living have collided to challenge our Vitamin D status; increased use of sunscreen recommended by most health care providers including pediatricians to protect against skin cancer, more time spent indoors, and reduced intake of fluid milk fortified with Vitamin D over the past decades are partly responsible for the decline.
Other environmental factors may minimize Vitamin D from sun exposure, including pollution, time of day and even the season of the year as well as racial differences, like level of melanin in the skin, make dietary sources even more important for many families to meet their toddler’s needs.
It may surprise you to learn that there are only a few foods which are naturally rich in Vitamin D: fatty fish like salmon and tuna, mushrooms, egg yolks, sardines and liver are good or excellent sources of vitamin D at the table (see chart below). And remember cod liver oil from your grandmother’s generation? That was to deliver vitamin D, too; one tablespoon of cod liver oil packs more than 200% of the recommended Daily Value (DV) *!
But as many a mom can attest, most of these aren’t exactly high on the list of a toddler’s preferred foods. This is where fortified foods can be a smart bridge, helping your toddler to reach the recommended DV of “D”. One 8 fl. Oz. cup of fluid milk fortified with Vitamin D or a fortified non-dairy alternative beverage, for instance, provides 100 IUs, or 25% of the DV of Vitamin D. Ready to eat breakfast cereals are also often fortified (the amount varies, so check each label carefully), and certain yogurts and orange juices now also boast Vitamin D. And New Earth’s Best Organic® Fruit Yogurt Smoothies make another smart choice, with each 4.2 oz. pouch providing 25% DV of vitamin D.
If you are concerned that a balanced and varied diet may still not provide the Vitamin D intake for your toddler then consult your health care professional to determine if supplements are a good choice for your toddler to meet his or her daily needs, as Vitamin D is stored in the body and, in very rare cases, can be toxic from overexposure to supplements.
|Cod Liver Oil||1 Tbsp||1360 IU|
|Mushrooms, portabello, grilled (exposed to UV light)||1/2 cup||317 IU|
|Salmon (chinook)||4 oz.||411 IU|
|Cow's milk or dairy alternative fortified with added Vitamin D||1 cup||100 IU|
|Atlantic Sardines, in oil, drained||3 oz.||165 IU|
|Ready to Eat Cereal||2/3 - 1 cup||varies|
|Egg||1 large||44 IU|
|Tuna, chunk light in water, drained||3 oz.||154 IU|
* All food values for Vitamin D based on USDA Nutrient Database.
1 Pediatrics 2008; 122:1142-1152.