To supplement your child with a multivitamin or not to supplement, that is the question. The necessity of adding a daily multivitamin to your childâ??s diet is a hotly debated topic. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, giving a child a daily multivitamin is only necessary...
On a recent outing with a few of my friends, the conversation turned to supplementing children with a multivitamin. One of my friends commented that she felt overwhelmed and confused about what to give to her children and what to avoid. Another friend added that she is basically giving her small children and teenagers the same supplements because she doesn’t know what else to give them.
To shed light on this confusion, I decided to give my luncheon ladies a little lesson in supplementing 101.
To supplement your child with a multivitamin or not to supplement, that is the question. The necessity of adding a daily multivitamin to your child’s diet is a hotly debated topic in the medical world. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), giving a child a daily multivitamin is only necessary if his or her pediatrician recommends one. The reasoning behind this is that, because a majority of foods are now fortified, additional mineral or vitamin support is not necessary. The AAP feels children should only be supplemented if they are extremely picky eaters, have signs of a specific deficiency, or are strictly vegetarian.
Set a Safety Net
On the flipside, other experts feel providing a child with a daily multivitamin is a good way to fill nutritional gaps in a child’s nutritional intake. While not a replacement for healthy eating, multivitamins act as a nutritional safety net for children, ensuring optimal growth and brain development. I am among those natural health practitioners who believe that supplementing a child with a daily multivitamin is necessary today. Because our children are bombarded with toxins (herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides), enriched foods, fast foods, foods grown in depleted soil, and for most Canadians, a lack of sunshine in winter, supplementing with a daily multivitamin is certainly warranted.
The Vitamin Relief USA® distributes daily vitamins free of charge to poor and homeless children in the United States. Since August 1999, this program has targeted children who are at risk for nutritional deficiencies that can impair brain function, stunt growth, create chronic illness, and even increase aggressive behaviour. Through this program, chewable multivitamins are shipped to a variety of organizations in 39 states serving over 14,000 at-risk children in over 550 locations. Teachers, parents, and other organizational staff report children achieve higher grades, behave better, feel better about themselves, require fewer visits to the doctor, and have higher school attendance when taking a daily multivitamin. For more information, visit vitaminrelief.org.
Supplement at Different Stages
As children grow and change from stage to stage, their nutritional requirements and mineral and vitamin demands vary. Natural health companies often produce specially formulated multivitamins and other supplements to cater to the ever-changing nutritional requirements of youth. For example, some children can swallow pills or capsules, while others rely on chewable or liquid form. Using age-appropriate formulations can make a difference to a child’s health and well-being and acknowledges their different growth patterns. Read on to discover which type of supplement is right for your child.
Infants: In the first 12 months of life, infants require either breast milk or formula. There is some debate about whether it is necessary to supplement a breastfed baby with vitamin D. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “All infants, including those who are exclusively breastfed, should have a minimum intake of 200 IU of vitamin D per day beginning during the first two months of life because adequate sunlight exposure (which facilitates vitamin D production) is not easily determined for any given individual infant.”
In contrast, the La Leche League International stance on vitamin D supplementation in infants suggests that exclusively breastfed, healthy, full-term infants from birth to six months who have adequate exposure to sunlight are not at risk for developing vitamin D deficiency or rickets, which occurs because of a deficiency in sunlight exposure, not because of a deficiency in human milk.
Because the views on this issue are mixed, it is best to gather all the facts, especially from your pediatrician, before making a decision that feels right. After researching and weighing all the issues when my son was born, I was comfortable with not supplementing with additional vitamin D. However, my son did receive adequate vitamin D from my food sources and from my multivitamin (which passed through my breast milk) and by exposing his skin to sunlight daily for a short time (20 minutes). Infants who are formula fed do not need to supplement with vitamin D.
For most infants who begin eating solid foods by six months old, I also recommend beginning a liquid vitamin supplement by their first birthday. Before one year of age, most infants already acquire sufficient vitamins through infant formula or breast milk.
Toddlers and preschoolers: As children grow, their tastes change and over time they should begin to eat a well-rounded diet. Unfortunately, the toddler and preschool years are also the time when your little one may become a picky eater. Younger children tend to go on food trends and may not put anything into their mouths, except their favourite food, for days. A multivitamin takes the pressure off feeding issues during the early years. Without pressure or worry, you can be free to be creative about increasing whole foods in your child’s diet knowing that vitamins are present to help your child grow strong and healthy.
Keep in mind that certain vitamins come in candy shapes, colours, and flavours in order to appeal to your child. For safety, store your child’s multivitamin in an out-of-reach location to ensure your child does not munch on the vitamins like candy. An overdose of iron, for example, could be fatal and is a leading cause of death in children under six. I recommend treating vitamins as medicines with your little ones. Make sure the bottle caps are childproof, but don’t depend on them–always keep vitamin bottles well out of the reach of your children.
Adolescents: Adolescence is a time when eating patterns vary due to newfound independence, busy schedules, desire for peer acceptance, and dissatisfaction with body image. Teens and pre-teens tend to skip meals, eat more meals away from home, rely more on convenience foods, try fad or vegetarian diets, and snack frequently.
Adolescence is also a time of rapid growth and maturation, making a healthy diet and a daily supplement of utmost importance. To work vitamins into a teen’s busy schedule, offer supplements daily with food in the morning. This will ensure they are not only taking the vitamins but also that they are not skipping breakfast. Fish oil supplements, green powders, and protein powders are also recommended to help build and repair muscle, boost brain function, and keep energy high.
What to Look for
Ask your local health food store professional to help make sure the multivitamin that you have selected for your child is age appropriate. Also be sure to ask about the reputation of the company that produces the pediatric multivitamin you choose. Companies that have a solid reputation as leaders in the natural products industry will assure the quality of their ingredients. These companies also will offer contact information (web access and phone number) to inform you about specific details or concerns you may have.
One last bit of advice: before buying, check your multivitamin for dosage recommendations and expiry date.
Five Ways to Improve your Teenager’s Diet
- Encourage your teen to eat three balanced meals each day plus two snacks.
- Try to get your teenager to eat something every morning, even if it is a small meal, such as a protein shake. In 2002 Harvard researchers reported significantly improved academic performance and social function in students who participated in a six-month breakfast program.
- When eating out at fast food restaurants, suggest healthier items such as a grilled chicken sandwich and salad or veggie pizza (light on the cheese).
- During growth spurts and periods of increased activity, teenagers feel hungrier, need more energy, and eat more. Be sure to have healthy snacks on hand such as fruit and yogourt or crackers and cheese.
- Teens should drink a lot of water, especially during hot weather and times of increased activity.
Top Three Supplements for Toddlers and Preschoolers
- Liquid or chewable multivitamins
- Flavoured liquid fish oils
- Green powder made into frozen pops or stirred into yogourt or pudding