Vitamins for Kids
8 things you need to know.
by Lesley Alderman
March 3, 2010
our child doesn’t like vegetables, so it seems like a no-brainer to give him a multivitamin. Not necessarily. Here are the eight things you need to know about giving your child vitamins. – Lesley Alderman
Most kids don’t need multivitamins.
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not advise vitamin supplementation for healthy kids. “The run-of-the-mill child who is thriving does not require a multivitamin,” says Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, chair of the AAP’s committee on nutrition.
But most kids do need a vitamin D supplement – 400 I.U./day.
In general, kids do not get enough of it – mostly because they don’t spend that much time in the sun and, when they do, they are slathered with sunscreen, which blocks vitamin D formation in the skin. In addition, kids are drinking less milk than they used to. Vitamin D is crucial to development -it helps the body absorb calcium, and calcium helps bones grow. If kids achieve optimal bone mass in adolescence, some researchers believe they will be at less risk for osteoporosis in adulthood. In 2008 the AAP began recommending that kids take a supplement that provides supplies 400 international units (I.U.s) of vitamin D. (By the way, most adults should consider taking a D supplement too, since deficiency in the vitamin may play a role in heart disease and cancer.)
Multivitamins don’t necessarily help, but they probably don’t hurt either.
Dr. Bhatia says, “Your child will not overdose on vitamins, even if he eats fortified cereals every day.” But if your child is sick often or is not growing well, then ask your pediatrician whether you should give him or her vitamins and, if so, what kind.
The jury is still out whether mega-fatty acids help brain development – or whether they’re safe for children.
“There is no strong evidence to suggest that omega-3, omega-6 or omega-9 supplements are beneficial for kids,” says Dr. Kimberly Giuliano, a pediatrician at the Cleveland Clinic. “Therefore, I do not recommend these supplements to my patients.” A few studies, such as a 2007 report published in the journal, Lipids in health and disease, show that Omega-3 fatty acids may help relieve ADHD and autism symptoms, such as hyperactivity, in some children but other studies, like one in the August 2009 issue of Neurology, show no benefit at all. If you have a child with either of these syndromes, talk to your doctor before you add an Omega-3 supplement to their diet. Dr. Guiliano cautions: “No long term studies have been done to prove [Omegas] are safe for children.”
Go by the quantities on the back of the vitamin bottle, not the daily recommendation percentages.
Actual amounts of the vitamin will be listed in I.U.s, mgs (milligrams) or mcgs (micrograms). Because recommended quantities change, you’re safer to just go by the quantity itself. For the most up-to-date amounts to look for, go to the Institute of Medicine.
Either store- or name-brands can be okay.
The C that’s in a jar of Centrum is often just the same as the C that’s in a bottle of a generic brand. The Food and Drug Administration is in charge of regulating vitamins, but it does not test the pills before they are sold to the public; it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure that their products are safe and that the levels of vitamins in the pills are as stated on the label. If you want to guarantee getting the best manufacturer, you can pay $35/year to subscribe to ConsumerLab, an independent organization that tests hundreds of vitamins each year.
Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of ConsumerLab, recommends Flintstones Gummies. “It passed our tests, has conservative amounts of vitamins, and uses the D3 form of vitamin D.”
And, yes, chewable vitamins have some sweetener, but the doctors I spoke to felt the amount was negligible.
Get your vitamins from food whenever possible.
Of course, the best strategy is to encourage your children to eat a varied diet, full of fruits and vegetables, so they get all their vitamins and minerals from real food. “Vitamin pills are not the answer for a picky eater,” says Dr. Giuliano. “We all absorb vitamins better from food.”
Vitamin D is rare in foods, but you can get it.
Very few foods contain vitamin D. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna are the best sources, and there are also small amounts in beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Fortified foods – most prominently, milk – provide most of the vitamin D in the American diet. Orange juice and some cereals are also fortified with Vitamin D.
- Vitamins: a welcome nutritional boost, or dangerous?
- How can I make sure my picky eater still eats nourishing food?
- Nine ways to get your toddler to eat vegetables.
This article was written by Lesley Alderman for Babble.com, the magazine and community for a new generation of parents.