Joy Bauer MS, RD, CDN
TODAY nutritionist and diet editor
Many parents worry that their children may not be getting enough nutrients from food alone, but they’re also not sure if they should be giving them a multivitamin or other dietary supplements.
Unfortunately, there is no consensus. Experts tend to disagree about vitamin recommendations for children who don’t display signs of deficiency. The naysayers claim that children don’t need large amounts of vitamins and minerals, and that even picky eaters should be able to get enough from food. On the other side are those who think of a basic children’s multivitamin as an “insurance policy” that can fill in the gaps of a not-so-great diet.
In my office, we approach this case-by-case. If it’s clear that a kid is not eating a well-rounded diet, we may recommend a children’s “multi” and possibly “calcium plus D.” If we feel a parent is unduly concerned, we try to reassure them, but will also give them the option of an “insurance policy” multi.
Is there a downside to the “insurance policy” approach?
It’s probably fine. My only concern is that some foods are already fortified with vitamins and minerals. In other words — even kids who don’t take a multivitamin often get one without even knowing it.
If a child routinely eats one or more servings of foods like this every day, and takes a multi, he or she may be at risk for overdoing it with some vitamins and minerals.
Two nutrients you don’t want to overdo:
1. Vitamin A (specifically from retinol, palmitate or acetate): Chronic intake of excessive amounts through fortified food and supplements can cause big problems.
2. To a lesser degree, zinc is also a concern. Too much zinc can depress your immune system and lead to a copper deficiency.
So check the fortified foods your child eats, if they provide 100% Vitamin A and/or 100% zinc, and you’re not willing to lose that fortified food, do not add a multivitamin to your mix. On the other hand, if your child does not eat a lot of fortified foods (or the fortified foods do not contain an abundance of A and zinc), you can feel free to go ahead and add a standard multi.
If you decide to give your child a multivitamin,choose a multivitamin that’s formulated specifically for children, and that provides 100% of the RDA for all the vitamins and minerals listed (avoid brands that provide significantly more than 100% of the RDA).
Here’s a few reputable chewable multivitamins:
- Flintstones Complete
- Puritan’s Pride Gummies
- One A Day Kids Complete
- Freeda Vitalets (100% vegetarian, yeast, gluten and lactose free)
How about calcium?
Aside from multivitamins, calcium is another supplement parents routinely ask me about. It’s true that children don’t drink milk like they used to, so they aren’t getting calcium from one of the best sources around. But fortunately, a lot of kid-friendly foods are now fortified with calcium for that very reason.
Before going the calcium supplement route, parents should do a weekly “calcium tally” with their children to determine if it’s needed.
Ages 1-3: 500 milligrams of calcium/day
Ages 4-8: 800 milligrams of calcium/day
Ages 9-18: 1,300 milligrams of calcium/day
If you think your child is a candidate for calcium supplements, look for one that contains vitamin D, because D-deficiency is a big problem in this country now that people are slathering on sunscreen.
Here’s a few reputable kid-friendly calcium chews:
- Li’l Critters Calcium Gummy Bears
- Nutrition Now Kids: Rhino CalciYums and Calci-Chews
- Viactiv Twinlab Calcium Citrate Chewable Wafers
And if your child is anything like my 12-year-old daughter, Jesse, who will not chew a chewy (or cannot swallow a pill), you can always mash one Caltrate 600D plus minerals and mix with vanilla yogurt or pudding.
Last but not least, make sure your kids brush their teeth after taking chewable vitamins, and do not leave these or any other supplements in reach of your children. Keep them tightly capped on a high shelf, and make sure your kids know they are not candy. And always check with your pediatrician before giving your child supplements.
Joy Bauer is the author of “Food Cures.” For more information on healthy eating, check out Joy’s Web site at www.joybauernutrition.com.