Pica in Kids

Have you spotted your child snacking on a piece of chalk?  Does he often like to eat non-edibles like sand, mud, wood, brick dust or more alike ones? If yes, this can be an indication for “PICA”. In simple terms “Eating disorder types”. Children with a pica eating disorder experience developmental delays and digestive issues. This condition can affect the infant and their development if it continues for a prolonged period of time. Continue reading to know tips and foods that can help kids to overcome this eating disorder.

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What exactly is Pica?

Pica is a types of eating disorder or habit of eating non-food items such as bricks, stones, soap, paper, soil, etc. It arises in kids who genuinely begin to view the world via their mouths. They often love to taste the weirdest of the things possible and always hold the hunger more often for the non-edibles!

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How common is it in kids?

Pica is very common and can happen to anyone at any age. Moreover it happens in the young kids especially under 6 years of age. 10% to 30% of young children aged 1 to 6 are affected by the disorder, which is more prevalent in youngsters. Children and adults with intellectual and developmental problems are also susceptible to it.

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Its causes include:

  • Malnutrition or hunger. Non-food items might contribute to a feeling of fullness.
  • Deficiency of minerals like calcium and zinc might act as a trigger for these crazy cravings.
  • Developmental disorders like Autism, ADHD or other intellectual disabilities
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder, also referred to as OCD.
  • Brain Injury
  • For grabbing attention
  • Stress: Children who have experienced abuse or neglect or those who live in poverty frequently exhibit pica.

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How to know if the child has Pica?

If the non-edible consumption habit continues for a month or more, then it more likely can stand as a strong indication of Pica. 

Some of its symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Stool with blood in it (which may be a sign of an ulcer that developed from eating nonfood items)
  • Issues with the Bowel movement (Constipation and Diarrhea)
  • Lead toxicity (from eating paint chips that contain lead)
  • Teeth breakage (Chewing hard objects)
  • Gum infections (unhygienic nature of the non-edibles)
  • Intestinal blockages or tears

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How can it be diagnosed?

There’s no such specific test for diagnosing Pica. But some tests can be just indicative about it. Doctors could also:

  • Check for anemia and other issues with nutrition
  • Test for blood lead levels.
  • Test one’s stool for parasites.
  • Order X-rays or other imaging tests to determine what the child consumed or to search for gastrointestinal issues such a block
How is Pica treated?
1. Talk to the child:

Try to get in conversation with your child about what exactly he loves in any particular non-edible that he often gets it into his mouth. With this, we can get to know the depth of that particular behavior and we may probably offer him some other edible to munch upon. For eg: If a child feeds upon chalk, it may be due to calcium deficiency. So you can instead provide a calcium tablet to him or her.

2. Visual alarms: 

Pictures or images can be used as visual alarms to make the child aware about the consequences of non-edible consumption. Similarly we can show them images of edible food that are beneficial for keeping them healthy. For eg: You can stick images of Sand, chalk and other non-edibles with a red cross mark upon them and also write “Do not Eat” in bold letters. This will help the child to make wise choices upon what to put in the mouth and what not to.

3. Medical assistance:

Doctors can assist parents in managing and halting behavior connected to pica. For instance, they can collaborate with parents to find strategies for keeping kids away from the non-food items they consume. They can advise installing high shelving and childproof locks to keep things out of reach.

Some children with pica require assistance from a psychologist or other mental health expert. Medications may also be prescribed by doctors if these treatments are ineffective.

What type of foods may help?

Some essential foods includes:

1. Nuts:

Numerous minerals can be found in nuts, especially magnesium, zinc, manganese, copper, selenium, and phosphorus are abundant. Dealing with mineral deficiency can be aided by this. Almonds, cashews, and Brazil nuts are among the nut varieties with the highest magnesium content. 

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2. Seeds:

Magnesium is found in abundance in several seeds, including chia, flax, and pumpkin seeds. Zinc, a mineral found in pumpkin seeds, aids the immune system in battling infections and viruses. Additionally a great supply of phosphorus are pumpkin seeds.

3. Cruciferous vegetables:

Sulphur, a mineral required for cellular activity, DNA synthesis, and detoxification, is particularly abundant in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, cabbage, and watercress. Cruciferous vegetables are a good source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and many other minerals in addition to sulphur.

4. Beetroot:

One of the best ways to raise hemoglobin levels is using beetroot. According to studies, children who consume 500ml of beet juice daily may experience less anaemia. In addition to being high in B vitamins, iron, manganese, copper, magnesium, and potassium, beets also contain betalains, a group of antioxidants that reduces inflammation and free radicals in the body. It promotes healthy digestion, immune system development, and blood circulation. So also it can improve the vitamin deficiencies. 

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5. Bitter gourd:

It is one of the foods high in iron for children. Vitamins and minerals are abundant in bitter gourds. Additionally, it contains a lot of iron and other essential elements including magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A and C. It also contains a lot of calcium in addition to vitamins A and C. The bitter gourd has a variety of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Thus with richness of minerals, it can help in improving mineral deficiency.

6. Sprouted black Chana:

One of the best sources of iron for vegetarians is soaked black chana. It contributes to raising haemoglobin levels. Sprouts are high in fibre, enzymes, protein, and other micronutrients while being low in calories. Black Chana also contains a variety of phytochemicals, such as iron, phosphate, chloride, flavonoids, proteins, amino acids, and carbohydrates.

7. Black pepper:

A study found that black pepper is effective in curing anaemia. Additionally, it is a fantastic source of manganese and vitamin K. According to studies, it is also high in dietary fibre, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, and chromium. Furthermore, it contains a variety of nutrients that are good for your health, including flavonoids, terpenes, tannins, and alkaloids.

8. Tapioca Starch:

Delicious starch extract called tapioca comes from the cassava plant. Tapioca, which is high in dietary fibre, aids in constipation and digestion. Constipation, bloating, and intestinal pain can all be avoided thanks to fibre’s ability to bulk up the stool and aid in its passage through the digestive system. It also contains a lot of protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin K, all of which are essential for children’s healthy development.

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9. Sprouted Moth Bean:

It has high nutritional content. Rich source of protein, carbohydrates, calcium, Iron, potassium, magnesium and B vitamins; it should be a part of your daily diet plan. However, Soaking and sprouting increases its nutritional value and makes it more digestible.

10. Ashwangandha:

The herb Ashwagandha is rich in key vitamins and minerals as well as other necessary components. Among the nutrients found in this plant include calcium, iron, and vitamin C. So also it helps in improving brain cognitive functioning that may also help in tackling Pica.

Along with the proper treatment, these are some of the types of foods that can be consumed to overcome the nutritional deficiencies and get over this type of eating disorder – Pica!


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