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The Role of Nutrition in Integrative Pediatrics: Supporting Health and Development

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The Role of Nutrition in Integrative Pediatrics: Supporting Health and Development

Worldwide, approximately two-thirds of children ages six months to two years old are not consuming food that harnesses and enhances development. Zeroing in on optimizing childhood nutritional status through integrative nutrition can play a monumental role in childhood health. In integrative healthcare, the role of nutrition extends beyond looking at dietary guidelines. It considers all that food can provide for a child’s vitality and how creating a well-nourished lifestyle can help set a child up for life in regard to their dietary habits.  


What is Integrative Nutrition?

One pivotal aspect of health is nutrition. Looking at the nutrition you receive through the food you consume can provide context regarding how food is building you up or contributing to a health concern. An integrative nutrition approach considers how all aspects of your life-physical, mental, and emotional impact your diet and how your diet impacts the various areas of your life. The goal of integrative nutrition is to take a holistic approach that provides well-rounded dietary support that is sustainable and unique to your needs. 

How Does Integrative Nutrition Support Pediatric Health and Development?

From day one, a child’s diet can influence their overall health and well-being. From birth to 3 months of age, there is a rapid growth of both axonal development, synapse formation, and neurotransmitter release. One study found that neuronal connections and brain volume growth in the first 1000 days of life depend on calories, fatty acids, protein, and specific micronutrients such as iron, iodine, zinc, and choline. Adequate nutrition can greatly impact gut health, which influences many other areas of vitality. Here are some key areas of development that nutrition directly impacts. 

Growth and Bone Development

Nutritional influences begin even in utero. Obtaining adequate nutrients in utero through childhood has shown a relationship to later fracture risk in life. The nutrients that are of utmost importance for bone health are vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin K. Having children obtain these nutrients through their diet is the ideal method, which can be through a variety of dairy products, proteins, vegetables, and fruits. One condition in childhood that has been correlated to a lack of micronutrients is growing pains, which is a transient musculoskeletal condition that can occur during toddler years or adolescence. 

Mental and Emotional Well-being

The foods that a child consumes, or does not consume, can impact areas of their psychological healthy. Poor nutritional habits and lack of essential nutrients have been linked to conditions like ADHD in children and depression in teens. There is also evidence to suggest that a healthy diet, abundant in fruits and vegetables, can support a child’s mental well-being. 


Both falling asleep and staying asleep can be a common sleep issue for children. For kids, there are many reasons they can not sleep, it maybe be behavior-based, situational, or it may be a disordered sleep condition like insomnia. This is an inability to fall asleep, which has been correlated in part to nutrient deficiencies. Dietary interventions such as a whole-food Mediterranean diet has shown to improve sleep quality in kids suffering from insomnia. 

Functional Medicine Labs That Help Individualize Integrative Nutrition in Pediatrics

Taking an objective look into areas that may be impacting a child’s wellness and nutritional status is one approach you can take with functional medicine. Here are four laboratory tests that would provide more context for your child’s health. 

Microbiome Health

A comprehensive stool analysis can look at the overall health of a child’s gut microbiota. Microbiomix is one lab that looks at microbial content such as fungi, parasites, and bacteria in the stool. This test can be both diagnostic for those with health concerns or be utilized to optimize nutrition and lifestyle. 

Micronutrient Testing

Assessing vitamin and mineral status through a finger stick Micronutrient Panel is a kid-friendly way to determine if nutritional deficiencies are present. This panel includes the main nutrients needed for bone health, vitamin D, magnesium, calcium, and vitamin K. You could include an additional test for phosphorus, which will be the last marker to cover bone health. 

Melatonin Testing

Looking at the sleep cycle by evaluating a key regulator of sleep, melatonin, can be one avenue to getting to the root of sleep disturbances. This test analyzes salivary samples, one in the evening, one at night, and one in the morning.

Food Sensitivity

Evaluating foods that may be impacting a child’s health could be an avenue to addressing underlying signs and symptoms. A commonly used panel is the 184-item IgG Food Sensitivity blood spot test. Food sensitivities can impact gut health, wreaking havoc on the microbiota, immune system, and psychological health. 

Integrative Nutrition Choices for Optimal Pediatric Health and Development 

Eating a whole-food nutrient-dense diet is the best way to ensure a child is getting adequate nutrition. A child’s diet should consist of macronutrients-carbohydrates, fats, and proteins along with daily servings of fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy. Where an integrative approach comes into play is to consider the child as an individual by paying close attention to foods that serve them and what foods may not be ideal for their body. In cases such as eczema, there may be a dairy allergy or gluten sensitivity. Making the connection between culprit foods and symptoms is vital in addressing root cause healing. 

In addition to obtaining macro and micronutrients, children should consume an average intake of daily calories to assist with growth and development. Starting at age 2 to age 4, a child should consume between 1,000-1,600 calories per day. This is dependent on their gender, size, and activity level. Calories increase by age from there on as more growth, activity, and energy is needed. 

While there is no specific nutrition plan that is one size fits all for children, you do want to ensure they are getting the necessary vitamins and minerals their body needs. It’s recommended that they eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day to provide these necessary nutrients. Produce also has plenty of fiber which is important for gut health and cardiovascular function. 

Supplements and Herbs for Optimal Pediatric Health and Development

Adding supplemental products to your child’s wellness regimen, as needed, can support areas of nutritional deficiency. Here are a few of the top supplements for pediatric wellness care:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Getting adequate fatty acids in your diet is vital for growth and development. In childhood, omega-3s are essential for nervous system development, cognitive function, cardiovascular function, immune system protection, and eye health. Although EPA and DHA are both necessary omega-3s, DHA takes the reigns regarding the importance of a child’s health. Omega-3 dosage varies for children ages 0 to 18 years old, ranging from 0.5 grams per day to 1.6 grams per day. Consulting with an integrative practitioner for appropriate dosage and high-quality sourcing recommendations is always the best route to take if you need support in this area. 


A multivitamin is not generally necessary if your child eats a well-balanced diet. In cases of picky eating, chronic health conditions, or underdevelopment, you’ll want to consult with your healthcare provider about appropriate supplementation. The only vitamin that is highly recommended to supplement breastfed babies is vitamin D. The recommended dosing for vitamin D for babies and young children is 400 IU per day. 

Probiotics for Leaky Gut

Probiotics can support a developing immune system, which can help reduce the risk of infection by enhancing good bacteria in their microbiome. A healthy intestinal tract lays the foundation for optimal health and development, especially in children who may be suffering from chronic stomach discomfort like constipation and diarrhea. There is some evidence showing that the use of probiotics has the potential to improve growth in undernourished children. There are various probiotic strands and combinations, and some are very condition specific. If your child is suffering from health complications or developmental issues, it’s best to consult a holistic provider that is educated in integrative pediatric care. 


There are many contributing factors to childhood sleep issues. One of them is dietary related, in which a lack of the amino acid tryptophan results in less production of melatonin. There are also foods that contain melatonin, which can also contribute to the issues. Correcting this dietary gap by consuming foods high in tryptophan, such as milk, turkey, and bananas, or foods containing melatonin, such as goji berries, nuts, eggs, milk, and fish, can support the body’s melatonin levels. Supplementing with melatonin is also an option. The recommended dose for melatonin is .05mg - .15mg per kg of body weight or max dosing of 5mg per day for insomnia.



You may have heard the saying “food is medicine”, which rings very true when it comes to pediatric health and development. What children consume on a regular basis can help create optimal health in areas of immune function, gut health, bone development, and cognitive function. Whether you are trying to course correct your child’s nutrition, or you are looking to optimize their health, an integrative approach could assist you in this process. Proper functional medicine testing, implementation of dietary changes, and supplementation are all areas that an integrative medicine practitioner can provide guidance and support. 

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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