Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reports that vitamin supplements for kids are a billion dollar business–but plenty of pediatricians worry about the risks of overloading on supplements, and both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dietetic Association say it’s best if kids can get the nutrients they need through eating a varied diet. Not only do some nutrients tend to be better absorbed from food than from supplements (true of both calcium, iron, and vitamins D and A) but because in addition to the nutrients we can identify, foods offer other benefits–some of which, like flavonoids and antioxidants, we’re beginning to recognize, and others of which we’re still unaware.
But it’s tempting to give a child who you know would really prefer to subsist on a diet of Goldfish and chocolate milk supplements to fill on for all of the broccoli and chicken he seems to leave on his plate. How do you know if your child really needs vitamins–or better, how do you know if he doesn’t?
He drinks milk: lots of it. Even flavored milks give kids plenty of Vitamin D and calcium. Think 4 cups a day for the vitamin D but three should cover calcium.
She eats meat (and again, lots of it). Kids need iron, and it’s most easily absorbed from beef and poultry (which deliver a punch of vitamins A, B, and D too). But it’s probably going to take 3 or more servings (of about 3 ounces each–think 4 slices of ham or a piece of steak or chicken the size of a deck of cards)–so see below:
He likes his cereal without milk. Plenty of cereals are fortified with iron, but milk gets in the way of absorbing it–which makes my kids’ Froot Loops plain-in-a-bowl habit look positively smart.
She’s a big fan of “superfoods:” Here’s the list of ten from WebMD: beans, blueberries, broccoli, oats, oranges, pumpkin, salmon, soy, spinach, tea, tomatoes, turkey, walnuts and yogurt. The benefits of this slate range from vitamins to antioxidants to minerals from iron to potassium, and if you can say your kid ate them all this week, she’s probably in pretty good shape. Make that amazing shape, and you get a “Supermom” sticker.
You live south of Boston (this one’s for Vitamin D only). If you draw a line across the United States at about Boston, anyone living at or above the line is absorbing no vitamin D at all from the sun from November to March. If that’s you (and it is me), then a supplement night be in order.
You’re worried about it. Chances are, if you spend a lot of time worrying about your child’s diet, he’s eating as well as, if not better than, plenty of his peers. A study published in the journal Appetite (also noted in the WSJ) found that both preschoolers taking supplements, and preschoolers who didn’t, were generally meeting their nutritional needs through foods alone.
6 signs your kid doesn’t need extra vitamins:
If you are giving your kids supplements, studies name a few to watch out for, like Vitamin A (toxic in really large quantities) and zinc (according to the study published in Appetite and described above, too much zinc can suppress the immune response). And if you’re not, then ramp up the blueberries and broccoli, and don’t knock the Froot Loops quite so hard.