Doctor’s Tip: Plant-Based Nutrition for Kids—Iron, Calcium, and Vitamin D

This is another column in a series from the book “Nourish, The Definitive Plant-Based Nutrition Guide for Families”. Last week’s column was about vitamins and minerals. Today’s column focuses on the micronutrients iron, calcium and vitamin D. Some people mistakenly believe that iron and calcium are insufficient in a plant-based diet. And many people of all ages have low vitamin D levels no matter what they eat.

IRON is important in the manufacture of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. It also plays a role in many enzymes, the immune system, and hormone production. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. It causes anemia (low red blood cell count), which leads to multiple symptoms and should be checked periodically during infancy.

On the other hand, too much iron also causes problems, the most common cause being hemochromatosis, a genetic disease. Dietary iron is available in animal and plant foods, but the type of iron differs. Animal products contain heme iron, which acts in high amounts as a pro-oxidant (causing harmful oxidation) and is linked to heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Plants contain non-heme iron, the absorption of which is controlled by the body. Non-heme iron is not linked to oxidation or any disease.

Here are the steps “Nourish” recommends parents take to ensure adequate iron levels in their children: 1) Avoid cow’s milk during the first year of life, as it is low in iron, inhibits absorption iron and may cause blood/iron loss in children. the stool. 2) Between 1 and 5 years, if given cow’s milk, limit consumption to less than 3 cups per day. 3) Do not allow more than small amounts of other dairy products like cottage cheese, cheese, and yogurt. 4) Around 6 months, when adding solid foods to breast milk or formula, consider iron-fortified cereals and continue throughout infancy. 5) For plant-based or plant-predominant kids, include iron-rich foods like lentils, beans, and tofu. 6) Serve iron-rich plant foods with foods that enhance absorption, such as those containing vitamin C. For example, squeeze fresh lemon over food before serving. 7) Limit foods that reduce iron absorption such as concentrated wheat bran.

CALCIUM is critical for bone formation and many other aspects of human health. Children aged 4-8 years, women up to 50 years old and men up to 70 years old need 1000 mg. one day. Despite what the dairy industry would have you believe, you can get plenty of calcium from plants. According to “Nourish”, “before the advent of animal husbandry, humans consumed an average of 1,000 to 1,500 mg without a single drop of cow’s milk.” Additionally, 70% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant, and milk is linked to prostate, breast and other cancers. Although counterintuitive, studies show that the more milk a population drinks, the higher the incidence of osteoporosis.

Here are some plant-based steps you can take to make sure your child is getting enough calcium: 1) Include plant foods with a high amount of absorbable calcium, such as broccoli, bok choy, Chinese greens, kale, napa cabbage, watercress, mustard and turnip greens, tofu in calcium, legumes, nuts, seeds, oranges, figs and greenstrap molasses. 2) Use non-dairy milks such as unsweetened soy milk (one cup contains 300 mg of calcium). 3) Sodium increases calcium loss in urine, so keep salt intake low. 4) For bone health, encourage weight-bearing exercises and maintaining an ideal body weight. 5) In general, avoid calcium supplements as the resulting very high levels of calcium in the blood can lead to health problems.

VITAMIN D, the “sunshine vitamin” has the chemical structure of a steroid and is the only vitamin considered a hormone due to its many actions throughout the body. One of its main functions is to regulate calcium and phosphorus, and normal blood levels of D are needed for strong bones. Low D levels are associated with bone diseases such as rickets, which were extremely common decades ago and are making a resurgence due to low blood D levels.

On his website, Dr. Michael Greger provides evidence that when humans evolved over millions of years in equatorial Africa, where they ran mostly naked, they had D levels of 100. In the United States, the lower threshold for vitamin D is 20 to 30, although some experts say it should be 50. A large percentage of Americans have levels below 30.

According to “Nourish,” vitamin D supplementation should begin during pregnancy and continue through infancy (whether with breast milk or formula) and throughout life. Here are the recommended dosages according to age, in international units (IU): 0-12 months 400 IU; 1-70 years 600; over 70 years 800; during pregnancy and lactation 600. On his website, Dr. Greger presents evidence supporting a daily dose of 2000 IU of D3 for adults.

Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with a special interest in the prevention and reversal of disease through nutrition. Free services offered by the Center for Prevention and the People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shopping with a doctor at Carbondale City Market, and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment or email [email protected].

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