I recently re-listened to a short episode from the FoundMyFitness podcast, where Dr. Rhonda Patrick shares a lot of wisdom on early childhood nutrition. Mostly for my own benefit, I decided to make a short post from my notes from this episode. Definitely refer to the original recording for more detailed information. Of course, it goes without saying that I have no business giving any medical advice, so don’t put anything I mention here into practice before consulting with your child’s pediatrician.
Common nutrient deficiencies and good sources
Omega-3 fatty acids
Almost a third of the episode covers the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA. The main benefit seems to be related to long-term brain and neurodevelopment. Think improved intelligence scores, reading skills, memory, but also improved social behaviors.
The main source of omega-3 fatty acids is from fatty fish, such as salmon. Other good options that are high in omega-3s and low in mercury are sardines, mackerel, and herring. Whenever I can find it, I buy good quality wild alaskan salmon (I tend to shy away from farmed fish options). I also like the canned wild sardines from Wild Planet (which are also sustainably sourced). Another great source is flax seeds, either ground up (our digestive system can’t break down the seeds) or as flax seed oil.
Apparently, many children are deficient in iron, especially infants between 6-12 months old. A common good source of iron is meat but also fish is another one. Although not mentioned in the recording, other iron-rich foods are legumes, spinach, and brocolli.
A majority of us are deficient in vitamin D, especially those of us that spend quite a bit of time indoors and/or live in parts of the world that there isn’t sufficient sunshine (e.g. in the Pacific Northwest). Supplementation with vitamin D drops is something that our pediatrician has already recommended and we’ve been giving our baby a daily dose of ~400IUs (roughly, since it’s in drop form and the dosage is approximate).
Dr. Patrick mentions that 80% of children are below the average requirement for vitamin E. Nuts such as almonds are really rich in vitamin E, as well as olive oil, fatty fish, and others. For younger babies, consuming nuts can be challenging and even a suffocation hazard, depending on their age and how well they’ve learned to chew solid food. For that reason, nut butters are a great alternative that’s safe and easy. Another alternative is to pound the nuts into tiny pieces or even into a fine powder. Obviously, be aware that some children may have nut allergies.
Another micronutrient that many infants are deficient in is magnesium. Good sources include dark leafy greens (e.g. spinach), almonds, legumes (e.g. lima beans), oats, and avocados.
This is one of the big ones with less than 1% of toddlers meeting or exceeding the average intake. While the mighty banana is the first thing one thinks of when they hear “potassium”, there are many foods that are high in potassium: skin-on baked potatoes, yogurt (also good source of calcium), avocados, pistachios, and lima beans.
Similar to potassium, less than 1% of toddlers met or exceed the average intake of fiber. Legumes such as lima beans, lentils, and navy beans are both high in potassium and fiber (as well as magnesium). Other good sources are butternut squash (also high in vitamin A), pears and raspberries (and in general fruits and vegetables), and almonds.
Not all toddlers reach their average intake of fiber. Some good sources are nuts/nut butters, olive oil, avocados, fatty fish, olives, and eggs. Eggs are also high in choline, which is really important in brain development.
Putting this into practice
Here is how I decided to reduce the advice above into a practical menu for our baby:
- Oatmeal with ground flax seeds and almond meal and/or almond butter (daily)
- Boiled eggs (2-3 times per week)
- Fatty fish with baked potatoes (2-3 times per week)
- Puree with avocado, spinach/kale, and legumes (3-4 times per week)
- Yogurt with berries and banana (3-4 times per week)