Growing up we were always told to drink milk for strong bone development. However, a common misconception about strong bone development is that we only need calcium.
The truth? Calcium cannot create strong bones unless we consume vitamin D, together they are absorbed in our gut to carry calcium through our blood to our bones.
1) Vitamin D is absorbed through the skin from sun exposure or consumed through food.
2) Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning the liver (where the fat not utilized for energy right away is stored) contains vitamin D.
3) The kidney's secret excess calcium to prevent calcium build up in the blood. Calcium build up can cause kidney stones.
4) Calcium and vitamin D work together to be absorbed in the gut. This interaction stimulates the gut maintaining gut flora health.
5) Calcium travels from the gut to our bones through our blood stream to create mineral deposits on bone tissue (bone building).
So, let's talk about how we can make sure our infants and children are consuming enough vitamin D and calcium for healthy bone development and maintenance through the lifespan!
Why is vitamin D fortification important in Canada?
We love the idea of our food being as "natural" and "un-touched" as possible, however, the fortification of food has saved many Canadians from chronic illnesses such as rickets (especially in children) and osteoporosis (especially in elderly).
Factors Affecting Vitamin D Absorption:
1. Extended winter months.
2. Tall buildings which shade sunlight.
3. Darker skin pigmentation due to melanins role in sunlight absorption.
Vitamin D Requirements
12 Months & Under: 600IU-1000IU recommended in Canada.
6 months old: 200mg/day
1-3 years old: 700mg/day
4-8 years old: 1000mg/day
Besides fatty fish, very few foods contain naturally occurring vitamin D. Therefore, food companies fortify food and beverages such as milk (cow and plant-based milks), yogurt, baby formula, juice, cereal, eggs and more.
*Note, although milk is fortified with vitamin D, infants younger than 2 years of age should only consume milk from formula or breastmilk, both being good sources of vitamin D.
Calcium with Canadas new Food Guide!
I am sure you have heard about the new Dietitian's of Canada plate model.
But how do we apply this model to an infant or child's eating?
Cheese, yogurt and eggs have been viewed as popular introduction foods for infants due to their healthy fat content in addition to calcium and vitamin D. These foods are an important part of our diet and an even more important part of infant diets, however, they are not the end all be all sources of calcium.
Quiz: Why might foods such as cheese, yogurt and eggs which contain healthy fats help vitamin D absorption?
Answer: Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, which means when vitamin D is consumed with healthy fat rather than liquid it is better absorbed. Additionally, these 3 foods are high in calcium which works with vitamin D in the gut!
Animal vs Plant-based:
The largest sources of vitamin D come from foods which naturally contain vitamin D such as oily fish and animal liver. Including fish and animal protein in your infants diet also provides heme-iron which can be absorbed readily in their body to maintain healthy blood cells. Whereas, plant-based iron (non-heme iron) needs to be consumed with vitamin C to be absorbed.
That being said, vegetarian diets are becoming more and more popular among Canadians for a variety of reasons including; animal rights, the environment, not supporting industrialized food systems, expenses, nutrition and more.
Thriving on plant-based food:
An infant can thrive on a properly established vegetarian diet.
What do I mean by properly established?
1) Speaking with the family doctor to learn about health conditions where a vegetarian diet may not be suitable (picky eating, allergies, intolerances, immature development).
2) Gaining knowledge around major nutrients that may be lacking with a plant-based diet: Vitamin D, calcium, iron and omega-3.
3) Making an action plan for plant-based eating and supplements to meet your child's requirements based on their age.
Sources of calcium for plant-based eating or dairy allergies:
Calcium set tofu (can be purchased in softer textures for infants).
Broccoli, kale, collard greens and other dark leafy green vegetables.
Almonds and sesame (note these foods are common allergens, read my post on introducing allergen foods).
Beans, legumes and chickpeas (hummus is a great introduction food).
Oranges, figs and prunes (fruits rich in vitamin C can also be used to better absorb the iron in plant-based foods).
It is important to provide infants and children with a large variety of foods during their development. Now that there is more buzz around eating plant-based foods, I hope this blog post has helped you gain knowledge in creating a balanced nutrient rich lifestyle for your child that meets all of their needs.