The New Vitamin D Requirements for the UK

I am not sure how many parents know that the vitamin D requirements for infants and children have changed in the UK….finally. The change followed a review of all the scientific evidence by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) in the UK.

In the past it was thought that sufficient vitamin D was synthesised through the skin exposure of sunlight, but now with public health recommendation to wear protective sunscreen it is recognised that it is no longer  possible. In addition, most children receive very little vitamin D from their diet as the diet on average only contributes only about 10% of requirements and this is based on an optimal diet that contains foods rich in vitamin D or  supplemented with this vitamin.

I am sure you are keen to know what these guidelines are. So here are they are:

  1. All babies under 1 year should receive 8.5 ug-10 ug per day of vitamin D – in particular children that are breastfed from birth should receive these vitamin drops
  2. If your baby is on an infant formula and consumes more than 500 ml per day, it is assumed that you are achieving this amount, as these formulas are highly enriched
  3. All children between 1-4 years should have a daily supplement of 10 ug vitamin D per day

The above recommendations are based on achieving musculoskeletal health and not for any other therapeutic intervention as there continues to be significant debate around levels for prevention of certain diseases. Its important to know that as with any supplementation, too much is also not good, so please do not double the amount suggested and think it will only do good. Vitamin D is not only a fat soluble vitamin, which you can lead to toxicity, but it has a potent effect on the immune system, which may not always be a good thing it taken in excessive amounts.

You will notice, that it is currently difficult to find supplements that contain exactly 10 ug, as most of them contain 7.8-8.5 ug of vitamin D. This is because many supplements are still based on the Department of Health recommendations and the NHS Healthy Start vitamin drops also contain this dose. We are expecting this to change.

So the message from this blog entry is, do get a vitamin D supplement if your child falls within the above category and if in doubt talk to your healthcare professional to assist you.

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Health Millet Bars for Toddlers

Ingredients (milk, egg, soya, gluten free)

100g ground nuts (you can grind any nuts you like)*

100g millet flakes

2 tablespoons honey

1 mashed banana

 * this recipe is not suitable for children with multiple nut allergies, but if you have been asked to introduce selective nuts, its ideal and you can only  use the nuts your child tolerates

Method

Mix all together and press with your fingers/spoon in a baking paper lined tray. This recipe is sufficient for pie pan and if you double it you can fill a baking tray.

Bake for 20 min at 180C and cut in 2cmx5 cm squares

Post-traumatic experience leading to feeding difficulties

Today will be my last entry on the causes of feeding difficulties. The last cause is a traumatic experience with food, that on either parent or child’s side causes the avoidance of foods. The most common reason I see for feeding difficulties related to trauma, is following a choking episode on certain foods. It does sometimes happen that with the introduction of lumpier textures, a child gags, becomes quite red in the face and in some cases vomits. Some parents experience this quite traumatic and this can lead to a reluctance to introduce textured foods, which means that it can lead to a delay in the acceptance of texture. If this were to happen to your child there are a few simple steps you can take. First of all, I usually advise parents to do a first aid course just to provide them with the comfort that they will be able to hand a situation like this.

Most importantly, do not give up on texture. Melt-in-the-mouth foods  (like the maize puffs for children) are often a really good first step to get texture into a child after a negative experience. These foods help with feeling texture and chewing (an essential skill), but before a child can choke/gag they melt and become a puree. I have often also suggested the use of a teething net (you place food in this net and your child can chew) for a week or 2 with food, just to get your confidence. Remember, there is a window of opportunity of introducing texture and that is before 10 months of age, after this it can be really difficult and some children become texture hypersensitive.

Children can also have traumatic experiences with food, which often leads to food refusal. Choking can be just as traumatic for a child as a parent. In addition, children that experience allergic reactions to foods often avoid those foods and foods that look the same/have the same texture/taste. It is therefore important when a child has a negative experience with food, to ensure you do not complete avoid the food (outside of a real food allergy of course)/similar foods but to offer food on the table of the high chair in a non threatening way, so that they still see the food is in front of them and get the message, that the food is safe and in their own time they can trial this again.

Most importantly, the reaction of parents to a food-traumatic experience can deter a child from having this food again. So if you see your child is gagging and spitting out foods, although it may be very stressful for you as a parent, try to handle this in a calm manner as a child will try to avoid similar feeding situation like this, which may entail avoiding foods.

 

Mechanistic feeding as cause for feeding difficulties

I am all for a child having a routine, in particular if this means children get all their nutrients and parents feel relaxed that they have had enough food.

The problem is, when feeding becomes so scheduled that it ignores the natural appetite and satiety of a child. If you were to perform a search on “Dr Google” on feeding schedules for babies, you will find anything from a 3 meal to a 9 meal schedule with breast or bottle feeds in between.

It is important to get to know your child’s appetite and satiety, instead of following a schedule that has been put together without taking your child’s appetite into account. Some children need only 3 meals per day and snacks reduce the meal volume and other actually do better with 3 smaller meals and 3 snacks. What is crucial is to listen to what your child is signalling. Trust your baby, they will signal hunger and satiety and show you when they are hungry.

Evidence has shown that if you “disrespect” the satiety of your child and feed just according to a schedule (i.e. “they must eat at a specific time”), that eating becomes a negative experience. In addition, we do not want to teach our children to override natural satiety as this has bearing on portion sizes in later life.

What I am certainly not saying is to through routine out of the window! Have a routine, but be flexible to adjust this, if your child is never hungry mid-morning for a snack, then do not force it on them. Cut it out and just provide lunch, they will signal if they get hungry in between and then you can bring in a snack. Equally, it may be on days that lunch is not such a successful meal, but dinner is great. This is fine, keep the routine but do not obsess about the success of the meal as most children will make up for poor intake in their next meal. Mechanistic feeding addresses feeding like a machine, which it obviously is not.

Please note: for those children with diagnoses affecting the gastrointestinal tract, hunger and satiety is often affected so the advice above, is for children without any underlying medical diagnoses.

 

When medical conditions cause feeding difficulties

Its been almost 3 months since my last post and I promised to go through the acronym STOMP as causes for feeding difficulties. This week in particular this entry seems important with the publication of a twin study from University College London on Fussy Eating and Neophobia, which has got the media going crazy.

Today’s entry is only about organic or medical causes of feeding difficulties. Those parents that have got children with food allergy, reflux of developmental delay (just to name a couple of medical diagnoses) will know that feeding difficulties are common when a child is not well. The question though is, when is your child’s feeding difficulty possibly a medical condition that has not been diagnosed.

There are a couple of “red flag signs” in regards to feeding difficulties that I would suggest requires a healthcare professional’s attention. These include:

  1. Dysphagia (difficulties in swallowing) – if you see your child has obvious difficulties in swallowing
  2. Coughing and spluttering every time your child has liquids (especially if you child has frequent chest infections)
  3. Gagging every time textured solid foods are given and this causing distress
  4. Apparent pain with feeding – in the young this often exhibits itself as refusing to drink breast milk or from the bottle
  5. Vomiting and diarrhea in association with feeding difficulties
  6. Growth faltering in association with feeding difficulties

If there is an underlying medical cause leading to the feeding difficulty, the problem is unlikely to be resolved without the medical condition being treated. It is therefore important to discuss feeding difficulties with somebody if they exhibit any of the above symptoms.

My next entry will be about mechanistic feeding as cause for feeding difficulties.

 

 

 

Size of a child as trigger of feeding difficulties

I promised last week that I would expand on each trigger of feeding difficulties. I will start with size – or growth of a child, which next to texture transitioning is one of the biggest causes of feeding difficulties.

First of all, it is important to get your child’s growth assessed on a regular basis. I want to define what is growth, because most people just think of weight, but in fact growth encompasses weight, length/height growth and in a child < 2 years of age head circumference. You can not assess how a child is growing only by looking at their weight, because the length of a child gives you important long term information on growth and so does a head circumference in the young. For example if your child’s weight has dropped a centile but the height is continues to grow well, then this is  much less worrying as your child may come from a taller skinnier family and this is genetically normal for your child. So if there is one message that comes out from today’s blog entry, is to get a length/height and head circumference (< 2 years of age) done before you start worrying that your child is not growing.

Now, why is growth a trigger for feeding difficulties? Usually if somebody tells a parent that their child is not growing it hits a very sensitive nerve that goes to the core of parenting. No parent can be blamed for not taking this personally! The knee-jerk reaction is to immediately start correcting this by feeding more food and increasing the frequency of feeding intervals. It makes sense that more food equals more energy and protein intake which means growth. However, your child may not want to have more and eat more frequently, which then leads to them refusing food, the parents becoming more distressed as they worry about their growth and the more distressed they are the harder they try, the more the child refuses……so you can see a cycle of feeding difficulties starting.

I would like to give some simple tips, but this does not replace professional advice.

  1. Enrich the food that your child is currently eating happily with cheese, cream, pureed lentils and other energy and protein rich foods. Ensure that you give full cream yogurt, provide a spoon of nut butter in the porridge your child is having or make a fruit smoothie with yoghurt and almond butter for example. Gaining weight is not just about energy but protein as well, so adding just oil is not going to do the trick.
  2. Do not increase sweets and chocolates – these are empty calories and do not contribute hugely to catch up growth. Food increases catch up growth which is more balanced and also for the future better for your child.
  3. Ensure that your child has sufficient vitamins and minerals which are co-factors for growth. This means, your body needs them to metabolise the energy they are consuming.
  4. Keep meal times to 30 min and no longer than this!
  5. Offer a manageable portion – this is psychologically important for parent and child
  6. If the can self feed – ensure that they have foods that are higher in energy and protein that they can self fed – cheese strips, falafel, home-made chicken strips, bread sticks and hummus, avocado and oat cakes as snack ect. This is often more successful.
  7. Respect your child’s signals of hunger and satiety – if they signal they are full, stop feeding
  8. Never force feed or feed when they are unhappy and crying

 

Feeding difficulties in Children

Every week I see children with feeding difficulties of varying degree in my clinic. What I can tell parents is that it is common, you are not abnormal and that it is very difficult dealing with a child that does not want to eat. I do want to focus a couple of blog entries over the next weeks on this topic, as I think there are some simple tips that may help and most importantly its you as parents want to know when do you need to see a healthcare professional.

Lets start with what are feeding difficulties.Generally if a child has one (or a combination) of the below they are classified as having feeding difficulties

  • extended mealtimes (if they take > 30 min)
  • sealing of the mouth/pushing food away
  • gagging on solids
  • spitting food out – every meal and all foods
  • dream feeding – so refusing to feed from the bottle if awake and only taking it whilst asleep

There is a lovely acronym summarising all triggers for developing feeding difficulties and it is called “STOMP”.

S – Size: the natural response to a child not achieving optimal growth is to try harder, to feed more, increase volume or frequency of foods and all of this leads to an increase in stress in mealtimes and as a result feeding becomes something your child (and you) want to avoid.

T – Transitioning: transitioning from breast to bottle, from puree to textured foods can can also lead to problems. For example the first time you provide some lumpier textures your child gags (which normally looks like they are choking but is not that bad), you get a fright and as a result do not move on with textures. If textured foods are not introduced by 10 months of age, it becomes very difficult as a critical window of opportunity has been missed.

O – Organic disease: there are many medical reasons why a child does not want to feed. That may be related to an anatomical problem with swallow/stomach, reflux or food allergies. It is therefore important to ensure that medical causes are ruled out. I will in a future blog highlight exactly the medical “red flag sign” that should not be ignored with feeding difficulties.

M- mechanistic feeding: the most common question from parents is that they want an exact schedule (including timing) for when their child should have a bottle, when they should have a snack and meal. So meal times become “mechanistic” rather than responsive to your child’s needs. Feeding a child or lets say trying to feed a child when they are not hungry but just according to the clock may also feed into the development of a feeding difficulty.

P – post traumatic: this can happen for example with a severe allergic reaction. For example your child had some egg, started swelling up in the mouth, was rushed to the emergency room and as a result is not only refusing egg but any foods that have a texture like egg. Another example is chocking (and I mean really choking) on food, which is very frightening for parents and the child and can put children off having pieces in future because they are scared of choking.

I will write next week on who size can impact on feeding difficulties and what you can do

 

 

The issue about salt in children

The question about salt comes up very frequently from parents I talk to, in particular if babies are above 1 year of age. Before 1 year, everybody has accepted that a “no salt policy” is a good one for baby food, but somehow there is this thinking that something magical happens at the age of one and suddenly salt intake can be totally liberalised. Of course kidneys mature with age and the amount of salt tolerated increases, but the idea behind the guidelines for reducing salt intake is also to raise a new generation of adults that are not as salt dependent as many of us are and therefore become healthier adults.

It is well known in adults that excessive salt intake affects blood pressure, but new research has shown that high salt intake in children may predispose children to high blood pressure, osteoporosis, respiratory illness (i.e. asthma), stomach cancer and obesity. So how much can your child have? The following are recommended intakes for the UK, but other EU countries have similar guidelines.

0-6 month: < 1 g per day

6-12 months: 1 g/day

1-3 years: 2 g/day

4-6 years: 3 g/day

7-10 year: 5 g/day

11 years and above: 6 g/day (adult requirements)

 Simple tips for reducing salt in your toddler’s diet:

  • Do not add salt to food – you can use herbs, spices and garlic/onion to make the food really yummy
  • Be careful of adult type crisp/salty crackers
  • Be careful of sauces/stock – you can find baby stock that does not have salt added and even better make your own
  • Smoked salmon, ham, cheese, bacon and many sausages contain a lot of salt, so best to keep the intake limited of these foods
  • You can also find a lot of salt in bread, snack and even breakfast cereals – food companies in the UK have really improved, but its important to be aware of hidden sources

How to read labels?

Firstly you need to know how to convert salt to sodium and visa versa, as many of the labels use sodium rather than salt.

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Salt = sodium x 2.5 – so if something contains 2.4g of sodium, it means it contains 6 g of salt. Be careful as often sodium is put in mg, so 2400 mg of sodium = 6 g of salt. Let me give you some further examples: if a product per 100 g contains 300 mg of sodium, this is 0.3g sodium x 2.5 = 0.75g of salt or if the product contains 0.2 g of sodium = 0.5g of salt. Hope this makes sense.

Many products now use a traffic light system to indicate salt content and are provided per 100g portion of the specific food.

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  • High is more than 1.5g salt (0.6g sodium) per 100g. These foods may be colour-coded red.
  • Medium is between 0.3 (0.1 sodium) and 1.5 g (0.6 g sodium) salt per 100g. These foods may be colour-coded in amber
  • Low is 0.3g salt (0.1g sodium) or less per 100g. These foods may be colour-coded green.

 

Useful Sites/leaflets

NHS Live Well Salt Guideline

You will see that the UK has published  2017 salt reduction targets for foods like ham, bread and other general products, which should help all of us in the future. You can read them here.

Sugar Free Baby-Toddler Biscuits

One of the most common questions I get from parents is about treats for their baby. The truth is that treats are driven more by us as adults than a need by the child – but by starting them, there is an expectation to continue. For me a treat is a birthday party and special occasions, but not a daily occasion. This brings me to the question about biscuits. In the UK I find a lot of nurseries and schools still provide quite sugary biscuits (and even cakes) as snacks. It is really beyond me, why this can not be changed to just fruit/fresh vegetables. In any case, I therefore set myself a challenge to work on a biscuit recipe that parents could use from 8 months of age. The reason I put 8 months is just to ensure that the baby has got the oral motor skills to manage it, so if your child is one of the more advanced baby lead “weaners”, then this could be consumed earlier, on the other hand, if your child’s oral motor skills are not quite there, then you may need to wait. Also note, this biscuit is NOT supposed to be sweet like the biscuits we eat, it just has the tinge of sweetness from the fruit added.

Ingredients:

  1. 1 cup of flour (you can easily use 1/2 cup of flour + 1/2 cup of nut flour if you are introducing nuts early as per new guidelines – speak to your healthcare professional)
  2. 50 g of butter (I use unsalted butter)
  3. 1/4 of a grated apple – this is where it becomes exiting, I just grated apple using a very fine grate (with the skin), but you could use pear, mashed banana and many other fruit. Depending on the moisture content of the fruit you may need to grate more or sometimes less
  4. 2 Tables spoons of skimmed milk powder
  5. Tip of a knife of vanilla powder – you can replace this with cinnamon or other spices that your toddler may like

 

Method:

  1. Heat oven to 180C
  2. Rub cold butter into flour mixture
  3. Grate in fruit – start with a small amount and feel with your fingers the density of the dough, it needs to end up like a pastry density
  4. Add the vanilla or other spices
  5. Leave in fridge for 30 min
  6. Roll in small finger sized biscuits (so that your to Toddler can hold them)
  7. Bake for 15 min – they keep for a good 2 weeks in a tinIMG_2643

What do I need to do if I suspect my child has a cow’s milk allergy?

Last week I wrote a blog on cow’s milk allergy, which I had quite a bit of response on. I thought it is useful to follow this up as promised with a blog entry on what to do if you suspect your child has cow’s milk allergy. First of all, please do NOT remove cow’s milk out of your child’s diet without consulting with your doctor to establish whether there are other causes for the symptoms that your child is exhibiting. If a cow’s milk allergy is suspected an elimination diet of cow’s milk may be recommend to see if the symptoms improve.  This should ideally be done under the supervision of a dietitian. I know that I often get complaints that some of you do not have dietitians in your areas or that there is a long waiting list to see one. It is worth the wait as cow’s milk provides a lot of essential nutrient especially if in the young. The British Dietetic Association has some Fact Sheets that have been put together by the Food Allergy Specialist Group, that provide information, but they do not replace an individualised dietetic appointment.

I wanted to broadly discuss general treatment models for cow’s milk allergy. If you are breastfeeding your baby, please continue breastfeeding and get advice on how to optimally take out cow’s milk out of your diet without compromising your nutritional status and reducing breast milk quality. It is highly likely that a calcium and vitamin D supplement will be required. In some cases your doctor/dietitian may recommend that you remove not only cow’s milk but soya and other food allergens. Again, this should NOT occur unsupervised.

If your child is not on breast milk, but on formula milk you will be recommended a hypoallergenic formula. You get two types, an extensively hydrolysed formula and an amino acid formula. The majority of children with have full symptom improvement on an extensively hydrolysed formula, which is made from short chain peptide (cow’s milk protein chopped up in smaller building blocks) that your child’s body will not recognise as an allergen. In a small number of children an amino acid formula is required. These are formulas that contain amino acids only, the smallest building blocks of protein.

Its important to note that these formulas taste different, smell different and yes, will lead to your child’s stools to look different – dark green in the majority of cases. If they spit up, the smell of this will also be different and it will have a different texture. This is absolutely normal and related to the fact that these milks have smaller pieces of protein or amino acids.

Whilst writing on hypoallergenic formulas, its crucial that parents also understand that any milk from animals on 4 legs (goat, sheep, buffalo, donkey) should be avoided as the protein is very similar and over the counter milks like for example oat, quinoa and coconut milk should only be offered after 1 year of age and ideally after a review by a dietitian. You can though use them in cooking from 6 months of age.

I would like to finish off this blog entry by saying that what I have written above does not replace professional advice cow’s milk allergy and nutritional management. Advice is ideally tailored for the individual.