Vitamin D and calcium deficiencies often cause similar symptoms in toddlers, so it can be difficult to tell if your child needs more of one or both of these nutrients. While only a doctor can diagnose deficiencies in vitamin D or calcium, you can help prevent problems by feeding your toddler lots of foods that contain these and other vitamins and minerals.
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Vitamin D and Calcium
Vitamin D and calcium work together in the body to build and protect bones and teeth. Vitamin D controls the level of calcium and phosphate in the blood and aids in the absorption of calcium by cells in the intestinal wall. Vitamin D also plays a role in immune function, neuromuscular activity, cell growth and inflammation. Calcium aids in blood, muscle and nerve functions. Vitamin D can be produced by the skin when exposed to UV light or it can be obtained through diet or supplements. Calcium must be obtained through food sources or through a supplement.
Toddlers need at least 400 IU of vitamin D every day and 500 mg of calcium. Milk is a major source of both nutrients for most toddlers and young children. One cup of vitamin D fortified whole milk provides about 300 mg of calcium and 100 IU of vitamin D. Other good sources of both nutrients include fortified cereals, fortified yogurt, fortified orange juice and fatty fish, such as salmon. Vitamin D can also be found in liver and eggs. Other sources of calcium include leafy green vegetables and bread.
Deficiencies of calcium and vitamin D early in life can cause irreversible lifelong problems. Rickets, a bone disorder characterized by soft bones and skeletal deformities, can result from a deficiency in either vitamin D or calcium, or from low levels of both nutrients. Because toddlers are often kept protected from prolonged sun exposure, vitamin D deficiency is a frequent culprit in the development of rickets. However, for toddlers who cannot or do not consume dairy products, calcium deficiencies might be more common.
If you suspect that your child has a deficiency in calcium or vitamin D, talk to a pediatrician about having his blood tested for these two nutrients. To prevent deficiencies, make sure your child gets at least the minimum recommended amount of each nutrient every day by providing a diet high in both vitamin D and calcium. A few minutes of sun exposure every day can also ensure adequate levels of vitamin D production to keep your toddler produce enough of this vitamin.