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Parents are often concerned about their children’s diet and nutrition. As parents, we strive to do our best to provide our children with everything they need for healthy growth and development. It isn’t always easy, as parents of picky eaters know all too well. If your child tends to push the fruits and veggies off of their plate, you may be worried that they aren’t getting enough of what they need.
Vitamin A deficiency is a rare condition that can have serious side effects. Here’s what parents need to know about vitamin A deficiency symptoms and how to incorporate more vitamin A into their young children's diets.
Vitamin A, also called retinol or retinoic acid, is an essential fat-soluble vitamin. Your body can keep excess amounts of vitamin A in its fat stores, releasing it later when it is needed.
Having adequate vitamin A levels is crucial for many processes throughout the body. It plays an important role in retina and ocular health, promoting and maintaining healthy vision. Vitamin A works to support the reproductive system and the immune system. The body needs vitamin A to grow and create new cells.
Vitamin A is also very important for expectant mothers. Fetuses need vitamin A to develop normally. Many prenatal supplements contain significant amounts of vitamin A to support a healthy pregnancy.
Vitamin A can be measured in two ways. There’s vitamin A itself and carotenoids. Carotenoids are naturally occurring red, yellow, and orange pigments in fruits and vegetables that the body can convert into usable vitamin A. Vitamin A intake is measured in mcg (micrograms) of retinol activity equivalents (RAE) to include carotenoids.
For reference, one medium-sized carrot contains over 1,000 mcg RAE.
Vitamin A deficiency is very uncommon in American children. These symptoms can indicate vitamin A deficiency, but they can also indicate other serious health conditions. If your child is experiencing any of the following signs of vitamin A deficiency, it’s important to contact your pediatrician. Don’t assume that vitamin A deficiency is the culprit unless your child’s healthcare provider tells you so.
Symptoms of low levels of vitamin A include:
Vitamin A deficiency is very rare in the United States. The issue is far more significant in developing countries where people don’t have access to foods rich in vitamin A. The standard American diet contains substantially more than the minimum amount of vitamin A necessary to support the body.
Global outreach efforts have attempted to prevent the effects of vitamin A deficiency by introducing engineered crops like golden rice in areas where vitamin A deficiency is prevalent. Golden rice is rice fortified with vitamin A. It’s a life-saving crop that protects the health of children without regular access to vitamin-rich foods.
A lack of dietary vitamin A is the most common cause of vitamin A deficiency, but other conditions can also cause micronutrient and vitamin deficiencies.
Some people are more at risk for vitamin A deficiency than others. Any condition that impacts nutrient absorption can cause vitamin deficiencies. If your child has any of the following conditions, they may be at risk for vitamin deficiency. Speak to your pediatrician about the potential for deficiencies if your child has ever been diagnosed with any of the following conditions:
Vitamin A toxicity is very rare. About 10,000 mcg of vitamin A in a day is considered a toxic dose. The most common cause of vitamin A toxicity is children consuming large amounts of vitamin A supplements in a single sitting. Vitamin A toxicity can cause side effects like nausea, diarrhea, and headaches. Long-term overuse of vitamin A can cause side effects like liver damage, skin damage, and bone thinning.
Call your local emergency room if you believe your child may have taken too much vitamin A.
It’s very easy to provide your family with enough vitamin A through diet alone. There are plenty of vegan sources of vitamin A. Children with allergies or intolerances to eggs or dairy can meet their requirements through fruits and veggies.
The naturally occurring pigments in orange, red, and yellow fruits and vegetables are carotenoids. Carrots are a plentiful source of vitamin A. So are bell peppers, cantaloupe, squash, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin.
Leafy greens like spinach and kale contain small amounts of vitamin A, but they can still be a valuable source of vitamin A in your family’s diet.
Low-fat dairy products are an excellent addition to a balanced diet. For children that can consume dairy, low-fat milk contains a wide variety of nutrients they need to grow and thrive. Some plant-based milks, like soy milk, may also be fortified with vitamin A.
Eggs are an excellent source of protein, vitamin A, and other important minerals for growing children. Best of all, even picky eaters often enjoy scrambled eggs with a little bit of low fat cheese. If your household can consume eggs, consider incorporating them into more meals to boost your menu’s nutritional content.
Fortified foods like bread and cereals often contain small amounts of many vitamins. Fortified foods help to keep families healthy by filling the gaps in our everyday diets. Check the nutrition facts on bread, cereal, and pasta. Choosing a fortified variety can pack more nutrients into your family’s normal meals.
You may not need to incorporate more vitamin A into your child’s diet if they eat a wide variety of foods. If your child is a picky eater, start by introducing more “fun” foods. Strawberry frozen yogurt is a great dessert option that contains vitamin A, and most children are more excited to eat their dessert than they are to eat their dinner.
Try swapping traditional french fries or tots for sweet potato fries or tots. You can crisp them up in the air fryer and introduce them to your child as a fun new favorite. Many children will take to sweet potatoes quickly.
Sliced bell peppers are a great finger food, especially if you introduce them with fun dips. Low-fat ranch dressing or hummus dips are great ways to get kids interested in eating bell peppers. You can let your child use whatever they like as a dip. Maybe your child wants to use peanut butter as a dip for their bell peppers. It might be a little strange, but if it gets them to eat healthy snacks, there’s no harm in letting them explore.
The best way for your child to meet their nutritional needs is through their regular diet, but this isn’t always possible. Children who live in plant-based households or who have allergies or intolerances are already working within specific limitations.
Picky eaters can (and often do) overcome picky habits, but it takes some time and patience to get them there. You can’t let them go without the vitamins and minerals they need to survive while you’re still working towards solutions.
If you believe your child would benefit from vitamin supplementation, it’s best to ask your pediatrician. Pediatricians are no strangers to picky eaters. In many cases, pediatricians will agree there’s no harm in giving your child a multivitamin supplement to fill in the gaps in your child’s diet. Continue to work towards expanding your child’s diet, but let a multivitamin help you along the way.
Hiya’s once-daily children’s chewable multivitamin was designed with picky eaters in mind. It contains 120% of the daily recommended value of vitamin A for children ages two to three, and 40% of the daily value for children over the age of 4. Hiya’s chewable multivitamin is vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, eco-friendly, and made in the USA. Our multivitamin was designed with your family in mind.
Vitamin A and Carotenoids | National Institutes of Health | Office of Dietary Supplements