As parents, the barrage of nutritional information in the media can be a worry, particularly if we feel our children are not eating the foods we know to be nutritious. Sometimes it seems that every day there is another vitamin, mineral or superfood for us to focus on. But the truth is we need a variety of foods to help us to stay healthy. This sounds so simple… Though unfortunately, the way eats in our western society today, means that many of us are deficient in a range of nutrients.
Many of us have a different idea of what a healthy balance is, and confusing media dietary messages tend to cause only further mystification on what healthy eating really means. My hope is that you will take your health journey one step at a time and lead discussions with your children about the link between whole foods and a healthy life.
I love my plant-based way of eating and find that I eat many more ingredients than I did growing up. After all, ‘variety is the spice of life!’
“Eat more plants and less of the other stuff” Mark Bittman
This week, a conversation with a teenager with low vitamin D status and the worry it has caused her poor parents, led me to look into the issues with this essential vitamin and hormone support as a deficiency in our adolescents.
Studies suggest that low vitamin D could contribute to diseases including diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune conditions and some cancers (1). Many of us would relate a vitamin D deficiency to awful images of bow-legged children with rickets, however, there is much more to it than extreme bone deformities. Our bodies need vitamin D to absorb calcium, support the growth of cells and regulate hormones, which leads us to understand that being low or deficient in this essential nutrient could have really negative impacts. In the UK more than 40% of teenagers were found to have a vitamin D deficiency in the winter months. The only way to improving the vitamin D status was to supplement(3).
what are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency in teens?
Teenagers are of particular concern in the UK because low vitamin D is higher at this life stage than for infants or children. This could be due to teens not being as likely to spend time outside along with the usual growth spurt that happens at this age. The symptoms seem to be far reaching and sometimes difficult to attribute to one vitamin deficiency, hence the reason to always encourage a variety of foods. Depression, pain attributed to bones and joints are just a few of the symptoms.
Teens with very low vitamin D could suffer from pain in weight-bearing joints, back, thighs and/or calves, difficulty in walking and/or climbing stairs and muscle cramps.
It is suggested that D deficiency can be misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or simply depression (3). Vitamin D deficiency at a young age can stop children from reaching the height and peak bone mass that is their genetic potential (3 and 4).
“In particular, young children of Asian descent in the UK appeared to be at particular risk of low status compared to similarly aged children of Caucasian origin” (3).
Furthermore, Dr Barbara Gracious found that the teenagers with the lowest vitamin D levels were more likely to be psychotic when assessing within a mental health clinic setting(7).
What if my child does not consume animal products?
Although produce such as oily fish, milk and eggs do contain vitamin D, research has found that vegans are no more likely to be deficient in this nutrient as long as the calcium and vitamin D intake is adequate. Also, their bone health is probably not an issue because their diet generally contains other foods which are bone protective e.g. green leafy vegetables. As with any way of eating, a range of foods is the most important thing to achieve the best overall health.
Food sources of vitamin D
It is difficult to get the recommended quantities of vitamin D through foods alone, therefore, it has been suggested that most of us should supplement. However, the following will help you identify foods that will increase the vitamin D in your family’s diet. There are many processed foods fortified with vitamin D, which in my opinion we should avoid as they carry many other potential health issues, therefore I have focused on the main sources. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight on the skin and so even in winter months make an effort to spend some time outside each day.
animal products: oily fish, milk and eggs
plant based sources: mushrooms, fortified non-dairy milk, soy yoghurt and tofu
How much vitamin D do we need?
In the UK a reference nutrient intake (RNI) of 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D per day, throughout the year, for everyone in the general population aged 4 years and older. The Scientific advisory group adapted the RNI in July 2016 due to the difficulty of achieving the safe intakes from natural food sources alone, SACN is also recommending that the Government considers strategies to help the UK population consume the recommended intakes of vitamin D (5).
After a trial published this discovered that teens were displaying inadequate levels of vitamin D to support bone growth, Dr.Taryn Smith is leading a project to look at ways to add vitamin D into foods that adolescents consume on a regular basis (2)
plant based example:
One green planet (website link below) give the example that 1 cup of mushrooms and 2 cups of non-dairy milk or yoghurt per day will provide sufficient vitamin D.
Tips for parents and teens
- encourage/consume a rainbow of foods
- try to spend 20 minutes outdoors each day, even in the winter (just don’t wrap up too much)
- take a vitamin D3 supplement in the UK winter of at least 400IU
I hope this article has helped you in some way, as always please comment or email me if you have any questions, you can also find me on face book, twitter and Instagram. Please share if you have found some value here.
Have a wonderful week and I look forward to sharing one of my favourite quick nutritious recipes with you in the next few days.
Lots of love and health,
references and helpful links
(4) Vitamin D and attainment of peak bone mass among peripubertal Finnish girls: a 3-y prospective study.
Lehtonen-Veromaa MK, Möttönen TT, Nuotio IO, Irjala KM, Leino AE, Viikari JS
Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Dec; 76(6):1446-53.
Nutritional benefits and concerns of a Vegan/vegetarian diet
plantbased guide to vitamin D
Vegan sources of vitamin D