We all know it’s important for children to get enough vitamins in their diet, but do we really need to be giving them supplements to fill in the gaps?
Registered dietitian Desiree Nielsen told Global News that deciding whether or not to give your children vitamin supplements really depends on their own unique needs, with some exceptions.
“Every person needs a vitamin D supplement. For children over one year, this is 600 IU of vitamin D3 daily,” she explained.
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Beyond that, Nielsen said that whether a child needs an omega-3 supplement or multivitamin, for example, really depends on how balanced their diet is.
“And how accepting they are of a wide variety of healthy foods,” she continued.
“A probiotic may be helpful for kids with digestive health issues but isn’t something 100 per cent of kids absolutely need.”
Nutrition should be first
Supplements for children are often created as gummies or candy-like pills to look more appealing. Registered dietitian Elizabeth Streit recently wrote about vitamins and children for Healthline. She added that nutrient needs differ depending on age, sex, size, growth and activity level.
Nielsen said nutrition from food should be on top of the list.
“If a child eats a wide variety of healthy foods, a basic multivitamin or calcium supplement isn’t necessary.”
But the problem, both experts point out, is that some children are not getting enough nutrients and vitamins.
“Unfortunately, children are prone to the same nutrient-poor dietary choices as their parents,” Nielsen said.
“If most of their meals and snacks come from pre-prepared and hyper-processed foods, they won’t be receiving the same nutrition as a diet filled with mostly whole foods.”
However, Streit wrote that some children may need supplements.
“Children with celiac or inflammatory bowel diseases may have difficulty absorbing several vitamins and minerals, especially iron, zinc and vitamin D. This is because these diseases cause damage to the areas of the gut that absorb micronutrients,” she wrote.
Dealing with picky eaters
Picky eating can also be a reason parents choose supplements.
“One study in 937 kids ages three to seven found that picky eating was strongly associated with low intakes of iron and zinc,” Streit continued. “Still, the results indicated that blood levels of these minerals were not significantly different in picky compared to non-picky eaters.”
And even if you have a picky eater and add supplements to the mix, Nielsen cautioned that this does not mean the child now has a healthy diet.
“Supplements can not completely make up for a poor diet. Instead, supplements can help prevent nutrient deficiencies that might arise from poor diet,” she continued. The ideal would always be to improve the nutrient density of a child’s diet, perhaps using supplements as a bridge.”
Some nutrients and vitamins are more important during the growing process like calcium in vitamin D.
“Children who don’t get enough vitamin D may not grow as much as others their age. They also have a chance of getting a rare disease called rickets, which causes weak bones,” HealthLink B.C. added.
“Talk with your doctor about how much and what sources of supplements are right for your child. Although breastfed babies get the best possible nutrition, they do need vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D for babies is usually a liquid supplement that you add to a bottle of breast milk with a dropper or drip into your baby’s mouth,” the site added.
Getting enough vitamins
Nielsen said that when shopping for supplements, it’s important to do your homework.
“It’s important to look beyond marketing to assess whether the product contains meaningful amounts of the vitamins and minerals you are looking for,” she told Global News. “Compare brands. More is not always best, but you want to ensure that the supplement is going to make a dent in their daily intake needs.”
A quick Google search will show you the amount a child needs depending on their age.
“Often, gummy multivitamins contain fewer nutrients than tablets so it’s something to watch,” Nielsen added.
But “supplementing” a child’s diet with food may be the best way to go.
“For example, seeds such as chia and hemp are high in omega-3 fatty acids — minerals that kids might not get if they don’t love eating legumes or meats,” she said. “I add seeds to smoothies, oatmeal and baking, and my kids are happy to eat them. Pureeing vegetables into soups and sauces and smoothies is another way to improve intake of important vitamins and natural antioxidants.”