Do kids really need vitamins? I get that question all of the time. There is no one answer that applies to all children and the decision to use or not to use supplements is ultimately up to the parents. Yet, there are a couple of key of factors to take into consideration when deciding whether you want to use vitamins for your child and, if you do, which ones are best.
Consider the daily diet
Kids’ bodies at every age are extremely efficient machines with a keen ability to extract the nutrients they need from anything they ingest – even dirt! American food companies, particularly those who produce kid-focused foods, know this and vitamin-fortify their products, identifiable by the writing on the packaging. It’s important to note, though, that strictly organic or vegan foods may not be vitamin-fortified, in which case a supplement might be advisable.
If your child generally eats well, meaning a little bit of fruit and vegetables each day plus a little bit of protein two to three times a week, they probably don’t need vitamins. At the same time, there is no harm giving your child a well-rounded multivitamin once per day.
The top three vitamins and minerals children need
There are three essential vitamins and minerals that need to be present in a healthy diet for every child – calcium, iron and vitamin D.
U.S. children rarely experience calcium deficiency and their intake requirements increase with age. Click here to see daily calcium intake recommendations according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). During childhood and adolescence, the body uses calcium to build strong bones. During the teen years, calcium is particularly important to both active growth and long-term health. This is because not only are their bodies using the calcium for real-time growth, but also storing calcium for use into adulthood. The greater the intake in children’s younger years, the greater stores they have as they age into adulthood to ward off diseases such as osteoporosis.
Iron is a critically important component that helps to make blood cells, which in turn carry oxygen throughout the body. Like calcium, children’s intake requirements increase with age. Click here to see daily iron intake recommendations according to the National Institutes of Health. Some children more susceptible to iron deficiency are infants who are solely breastfed past six months of age. Breast milk does have some iron, but not enough to actively help make new blood cells when babies need it most. Any iron stores babies have become depleted after six months at which time supplements are required. If a child does not have enough iron they may become anemic and have low energy, become fatigued easily, and even have difficulties concentrating. This in turn makes it more difficult for them to function and grow appropriately.
The AAP’s recommended intake of vitamin D is 400 international units (IUs) per day for infants, children and adolescents. Vitamin D is a key contributor to the growth of a child because it supports the body’s ability to absorb calcium. Like iron, breast milk falls short in meeting the daily requirements of vitamin D, so supplements are required for all breastfed children. Baby formula is supplemented with plenty of vitamin D. Generally, the main source of vitamin D has been through dairy products and exposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) light. Some experts say that all of us in the Chicago area could probably use extra vitamin D in our diets during the winter months.
Not all vitamins are created equal
Despite their convenience and popularity with families, pediatricians generally do not recommend gummy vitamins. Not only are they bad for the teeth just as gummy candies are, but most of these vitamins do not contain calcium or iron (two of the most important minerals) because they interfere with the way the products taste. I recommend hard, chewable children’s vitamins, such as Flintstones Complete for kids two years old and up. It’s worthwhile to note that there is no evidence that extra vitamin C helps cure or prevent illnesses of any kind.
The average daily diet in American children generally meets the vitamin and mineral requirements for healthy growth and development without supplementation. Yet, if giving a child a daily multivitamin as directed increases the parent’s comfort level, there is no harm in it.