Enriched Foods For Children—Healthy Development From The Start

Thursday, March 28th, 2019

A child’s development through the end of puberty is of critical importance for lifelong health. Nutrition plays a central role in this. An adequate supply of micronutrients is crucial for proper heart and lung development, bone growth, and the development of the brain, immune system, nerves and other organs. This requires a balanced diet that supplies all the important nutrients.

However, it is not always possible for children to receive such a diet, for a variety of reasons. As such, special products for children enriched with selected micronutrients are a popular and effective way to help. SternVitamin offers a wide range of micronutrient premixes for every age group and many different applications, tailored to the special wishes of the respective customers.


The Foundation Of Healthy Growth

Scientific studies show that children often do not get the micronutrients they need. This includes folic acid, vitamin D, calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium, and omega 3 fatty acids. Deficiencies of such nutrients can lead to frequent infections, and to learning impairment caused by an undersupply of important substances to the brain. Enriching foods helps ensure a good supply of all necessary nutrients.

“We focus on product concepts that help support immune system function, healthy bone and teeth development, and healthy brain development,” explains Maik Hommers, Regional Business Manager at Stern Ingredients Asia-Pacific, a sister company of SternVitamin. “We address the entire scope of the issue, starting with prenatal nutrition for pregnant mothers and going on to infant and toddler nutrition and products for pre-schoolers and school-age children. As children grow, their nutritional needs change. Each of our premixes is precisely adapted to its target age group, in order to provide a good supply of nutrients to children.”


The First 1000 Days Of A Child’s Life

The first 1000 days are the time from conception to the age of two years. During this period, the diet—including macro and micronutrients—is of critical importance. It lays the foundation for the child’s entire future and sets the stage for later health developments. Hence, it is very important that the mother-to-be supply her child with the right nutrients from the first day of pregnancy. Among these key nutrients are folic acid to prevent birth defects, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K for building bones, and iodine, zinc, selenium, iron and B-vitamins for metabolic development. Foetuses and nursing infants also need the omega 3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) for the normal development of brain and eyes.

After birth, the baby takes in nutrients via the mother’s milk, or by infant formula as a supplement or substitute. Formula is designed to provide nursing infants and babies with the nutrients necessary at different development phases. “Starting around their second birthday, when children are eating normal food, specially enriched foods aid in their development,” says Hommers. “A common approach is to enrich milk powder, liquid milk and yogurt. Other options are beverages, cereals, muesli bars, cookies and sweets like candies or gummy bears. All these foods offer good potential for a wide range of product ideas for age-appropriate target group concepts.”


Growth And Strong Bones

Children need calcium and vitamin D for normal growth and bone development. Calcium is the primary building block of bone. If children don’t get enough calcium in their diet, the body takes it out of the bone mass and so demineralises the bones. This makes a good supply of calcium critically necessary during the growth years. Vitamin D improves calcium absorption by the body and helps make it available for building bones. Oral vitamin D supplementation is especially important for babies and toddlers to prevent rickets. Nutritionists recommend adding the vitamin to the child’s food until their second year.


Cognitive Development

The omega 3 fatty acid DHA is important for the brain, as it helps form the membranes that surround all cells. This makes the cells more flexible and boosts their ability to transfer information. Thus, DHA helps nerve messenger substances do their job faster, and so contributes to cognitive development.

As an oxygen carrier in the blood, iron is also very important for the brain. In children, it contributes to normal cognitive development. Children’s brain development also depends on an adequate supply of thyroid hormones, making iodine likewise important for cognitive development in children.

The B-vitamins perform essential tasks in energy provision and stimulus transmission. Vitamin B deficiency can cause lack of concentration, poor memory, tiredness and fatigue. Vitamins B6, B12 and pantothenic and folic acid are especially important.


Defence Against Infections

When the immune system is challenged, it has an increased need for micronutrients, especially folic acid, vitamin B12, zinc and iron, as these are involved in the growth of immune cells. Also, various types of immune system cells work properly only when enough vitamin C is available. This micronutrient can have especially beneficial effects in protecting against colds, and can alleviate the symptoms of and speed recovery from a cold that is already present. Vitamin E is important for the healing process as it supports specific immune defences.

In fighting respiratory infections, it is crucial that the mucus membranes function well. This makes vitamin A and zinc essential, as they strengthen this protective barrier and protect mucus membranes from drying out. Vitamin D also strengthens the immune system.


Development Challenges

SternVitamin provides food and beverage manufacturers with customised micronutrient premixes that are targeted to the needs of different age groups. Of fundamental importance in this is a thorough knowledge of the individual raw materials, in terms of their nutritional effects as well as their chemical and physical properties. Hommers says, “For example, many manufacturers fortify milk powder, which schools mix with water and set out in carafes for children to serve themselves throughout the day. In product development we therefore make sure that the premix contains no substances that can form sediments.”

Normally, milk powder and other instant beverages are mixed immediately prior to being consumed, so the complete solubility or dispersion of the added micronutrients doesn’t matter a great deal. But in powdered milk for school use, it is of central importance, since the milk is not drunk right away. This gives any micronutrients that are not properly solved or dispersed enough time to form sediments.

“The challenge is always to select exactly the right micronutrients for the respective application,” says Hommers. “Not every compound is soluble. Some substances also have a strong taste of their own that needs to be masked so that the final product tastes good and kids will drink it. The trick is to find the right balance.”

Through intensive research and development, SternVitamin’s scientists and applications technologists have a very good knowledge of the properties of individual micronutrients. Solid insights into the different markets are also necessary if product concepts are to be successful. Stern Ingredients’ specialists know exactly what country-specific requirements need to be observed in making premixes, so that manufacturers can advertise the health benefits of their enriched children’s products on the packaging.