Minerals for kids? You’d be amazed. Nutrient minerals – all fifteen of them – are just as important for kids as they are at any age. Minerals tackle countless tasks for us. Replenishing minerals in foods or supplements can help kids can become more calm, focused, and settled. They can feel less depressed or anxious. They can fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. They can get sick less often, and feel well faster. Their appetites may improve, they may stop chewing things like pencils or fabric, and they may stop objecting or gagging over new food textures. Restoring minerals for kids can even improve math skills.
Strong intakes of minerals from foods or from supplements, where indicated, have potential to solve a lot of problems. But a lot of kids miss out, especially if they are stuck in a picky eating pattern. Each mineral is a deep topic in itself; we need a good bit of some, like calcium and magnesium (think a quarter to half teaspoon size amount), and tiny traces of others, like copper or selenium. Here’s the thing: If your kids have trouble with anxiety, sleep pattern, food textures, constipation, or inattention and reactivity, a chewable kids’ multivitamin probably won’t meet their heightened needs for certain minerals. Most kids’ multivitamin supplements have only three or four minerals, usually at insignificant potencies. While it might prevent outright deficiency, it doesn’t meet functional needs for most kids, or for kids with deeper nutrition deficits. We need at least 13 minerals to function, with up to 21 of them are critical in super micro quantities.
Let’s start with calcium. It’s the one mineral that pediatricians seem to think a lot about, based on parents’ questions to me in my pediatric nutrition practice. They are often worried about calcium, because of what they were told at the doctor’s office. Yes, kids need calcium. No, dairy food isn’t the only or best way to get it! In fact, eating too much milk, too many sugary yogurt tubes or cups, too much cheese and not a lot of anything else can cause problems of its own. With this eating pattern, kids can get overloaded with calcium that may not be well absorbed. Plus, they get lots of sugar, no fiber, and miss out on foods that restore other important minerals.
Calcium isn’t just about bones. Bones are great! They protect our vital organs inside our rib cage, and give us a structure to stand on. They hold our brains inside a safe hard bowl. But they do more than all that: Bones are active tissue that maintain a reservoir for calcium for us. Calcium is just as important metabolically as it is for building bone structure. Calcium is non-negotiable for balancing heart rate, muscle contraction, nerve cell function, blood clotting, and other physiologic tasks. The body uses bone as a calcium bank account, and will draw calcium out of bone as needed to keep things running smoothly. It even uses calcium to help manage fever.
Another blind spot is magnesium for kids. Magnesium isn’t an easy mineral to eat a lot of, especially for picky eaters. In fact, picky eaters miss out on just about every mineral (except calcium of course, because most picky eaters love cheesy food, yogurt, or milky drinks like Pediasure). Magnesium is so key! We all need it – kids included – for attention, focus, calming, and over 300 cellular functions in the body! Even most adults don’t eat enough magnesium.
Because magnesium – like calcium – has critical metabolic functions, lab tests to check these minerals can fall short, if you’re using them to predict whether your child needs more minerals from foods or supplements. If your child ever had a blood test to check these, it was probably part of a “metabolic panel”. Lab ranges for these four minerals are tiny. That’s because the body will do whatever it can to keep those levels tightly balanced, so we don’t faint, get dizzy, have a seizure, have arrhythmia, feel muscle spasms, or lose too much water. Magnesium, calcium, potassium, and sodium are workhorse minerals that demand tight tolerances in the body to regulate all our metabolic functions and water balance.
If a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) or chemistry panel showed any of these four minerals far from expected range, your child is likely showing dramatic symptoms and your doctor is on it. Otherwise, when those values are inside lab ranges, a child may still need some boosting from minerals in foods or supplements. Here’s some quick tips to help you support good mineral balance in kids. Note that too much of any mineral can have negative effects, so use judiciously and with guidance from your naturopath or pediatrician. You can also contact me for more help:
- Magnesium can support sleep, relaxation, and stooling when used as a supplement. Different forms tackle different tasks
- Magnesium oxide is a powerful laxative. Use with guidance from your pharmacist or doctor. Some kids need this power! This can be an option for moving impacted stool, used with supervision.
- Magnesium citrate is calming, and can have a laxative effect for some kids at doses over 300 mg.
- Magnesium glycinate and magnesium taurate are especially helpful for calming and focus.
- Foods rich in magnesium are almonds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, peanuts and peanut butter, black beans, lima beans, quinoa, spinach, chard, dark chocolate, avocadoes, bananas.
Foods rich in magnesium are also great for potassium, and you can add watermelon, sweet potatoes, coconut water, lentils, oranges, and butternut squash to the list too.
For calcium, some non-dairy standouts include beans, peas and lentils. You can also reach for almonds or almond milk or almond butter, organic fermented soy products like miso or tempeh, or sesame tahini. Greens and cruciferous veggies are notable for calcium too (bok choy, spinach, chard, kale, Brussels sprouts) – serve these cooked, to make the calcium in them more accessible in the gut. If supplementing, use a calcium citrate (not carbonate) form, reacted calcium, or calcium lactate. Any of these forms are more readily absorbed and won’t unnecessarily buffer the stomach. Depending on your child’s age, weight, and diet, you might use 500 to 1000 mg per day. There are liquids, chewables, capsules or powders available.
What about zinc, iron, and copper? These are essential too. Many of the foods mentioned here carry helpful amounts of these three minerals too. Adding eggs, organ meats, beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, scallops or some fish in moderation will give healthy amounts of these minerals from foods. If you’re uncertain what your child needs for this trio of minerals, have your doctor do a blood test for serum levels of iron, zinc, and copper. High doses of iron and copper can be unsafe if given when not needed, or if used incorrectly. High doses of zinc can reduce iron and copper in the body. Bloodwork will show the story. Here are some key bullets on these three minerals:
- Ideally, the ratio of free zinc to free copper in serum should be at least 1:1 or higher. More free copper relative to free zinc in serum is associated with aggressive or combative behavior. This association can be seen even if both copper and zinc are within lab ranges.
- Too much copper, iron or zinc above lab range is not helpful and can be toxic. Review any findings with your doctor.
- Too little copper or copper below lab range can trigger anemia. Copper is needed for normal red blood cell function, just like iron. If your child presents with fatigue, shiners, pallor, and restless sleep, have your doctor check these minerals with a blood test.
- Using zinc supplements long term can reduce copper or iron.
If you’re interested in a great source of copper, use a chlorophyll option like ChlorOxygen gel capsules daily. If your child needs iron supplements, check with your doctor on correct and safe dosing.
Micro amounts of minerals are important too – minerals like chromium, selenium, boron, manganese, cobalt, iodine, and molybdenum are missing from many picky eater diets. If your child is eating a broad diet with fresh fruits and vegetables every day, then they are likely getting enough of these minerals from foods. If not, I recommend Pure Encapsulations Junior Nutrients. These are small capsules designed for children learning to swallow a capsule. In my practice, children as young as 4 years old swallow these handily. A powdered option that I like is VitaSpectrum from Klaire Labs. You can find these in my FullScript platform. If you need more guidance, reach out and let me know. Thanks for stopping by!