Prepared Foods April 26, 2005 enewsletter

Low-fat diets might be fine for adults, but at least one small study suggests grown-ups using that approach for their families could be depriving young children of vitamins they need.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln nutrition scientist Judy Driskell said her study of preschool children in Lincoln found two-thirds lacked the recommended levels of vitamin E and were one-third short on vitamin C. "Parents are eating a lot of low-fat and non-fat products, and we're finding they also give their children such things as skim milk," Driskell said.

Some experts were shocked at the findings, saying vitamin deficiencies, particularly of vitamin C, are considered uncommon in North America.

Driskell and colleagues from the university's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources tested major antioxidant vitamin levels in children ages two to five at four Lincoln daycare centers.

They found many suffered borderline deficiencies.

"Their blood values were low, but the children did not have deficiency symptoms that would affect skin, eyes and that kind of thing," Driskell said.

Besides parents' tendency to give children low-fat foods, researchers found daycare centers serving potato chips and other such snacks, Driskell said.

Some centers avoided serving fresh fruit for fear of food allergies among children.

Nutritionists recommend young children regularly have whole milk, nuts, seeds, regular salad dressings, whole-grain cereals fortified with vitamin E, fresh fruits and vegetables and small amounts — 90ml to 180ml — of citrus juice.