Are you wondering how your child became a fussy eater?

In many cases, mild fussiness is just a phase. But if the dinner table feels like a battlefield where you’re constantly demanding they try something new, it’s worth considering what might be driving the picky eating.

The example we set for our kids around food plays a critical role in their relationship with food. But for some, there is one or more physical causes contributing to the behaviour.

Nutrient deficiencies

The body needs specific nutrients for every process in the body, including appetite, digestion and absorption of food. So it makes sense that a lack of nutrients that support these processes can lead to issues with eating.

The most common nutrient deficiency we see linked to fussy eating is zinc. Children need a lot of zinc due to its role in growth, development and immunity. They also tend to eat foods that are lower in zinc. The gap between their need and intake can quickly develop into a deficiency.

Zinc is needed to produce stomach acid. If your child doesn’t have enough stomach acid, they may struggle to digest protein and experience symptoms that lead to fussy eating.

Picky eating can also exacerbate low zinc levels.

Picky eaters are less likely to eat animal products, seeds and wholegrains that are rich in zinc. So the gap grows and their lack of appetite and digestive concerns grow worse.

Poor gut health

The gut is the centre of our wellbeing.

Unfortunately, the modern diet and lifestyle has a detrimental effect on gut health.

Poor gut health is often evident in fussy eaters.

Some of the potential gut issues that can contribute to fussy eating include:

  • Constipation – there is a link between constipation and fussy eating. This could be due to the discomfort that constipation causes, other gut issues, or it could be a result of the fussy eating tendencies. Addressing the constipation may help to relieve the picky eating patterns.
  • Dysbiosis – an imbalance in the microbes found in the gut. This leads to greater cravings for sweet, bland and processed foods.
  • Insufficient digestive enzymes – some children may not produce the digestive enzymes needed to digest foods that are high in protein or fats. This can lead to a preference for easy to digest foods – think starchy, sweet and plain foods.

Poor gut health can often go hand in hand with nutrient deficiencies. Because their gut isn’t absorbing nutrients effectively, they are more likely to develop deficiencies. But then low nutrient levels can affect the health and integrity of the gut, turning into a vicious cycle.

This is why it’s critical to take a holistic approach to fussy eating in children.

Sensory issues and neurodevelopmental conditions

Eating involves all of the senses. So if your child is struggling with food, particularly when it comes to things like texture, scent or sounds, a sensory issue may be at the root of the problem. This may be due to sensory processing disorder or a neurodevelopmental condition such as ADHD or autism.

Children who have sensory issues are more likely to become problem feeders – those who refuse entire food groups and textures, refuse to interact with new foods, and consume less than 30 foods. This can be a nightmare for the parents and meal times become stressful for the whole family.

This ties back to both nutrient deficiencies and poor gut health. Many children with sensory issues, ADHD and autism have poor gut health and are at risk of developing nutrient deficiencies.

Even if you only suspect sensory issues in your child, it’s worth exploring further. There are steps that we can take to work on fussy eaters and problem feeders alike, but it’s best to start as soon as possible to prevent further issues.

Are you struggling with your picky eater or problem feeder?

As well as being a Nutritionist, I am also a trained feeding therapist. I use the SOS approach to systematically desensitise picky eaters. Get in touch today to see if I can help you!