With the shelves lined with multivitamin/mineral supplements for kids, how do you know which one to buy? More importantly, do your children need supplements to begin with? Are you wasting time and money, or are you improving your young ones’ health by giving them daily multivitamins?
Do Kids Need a Multivitamin Everyday?
In general, the research shows that if your children are healthy and eat a nutritious, well-rounded diet, they probably do not need a regular multivitamin.
Although taking a vitamin supplement as recommended is likely to be harmless in most cases, studies have shown that they often aren’t needed. Research reveals that the majority of kids taking multivitamins are already healthy and consume plenty of vitamins and minerals through their diet. What has also been found, however, is that children who would benefit the most from taking a vitamin/mineral supplement, such as those that have health issues or a very poor diet, are the least likely to take them.
Nutrients of Concern for Growing Kids
The following vitamins and minerals are critical for growing children and are the most likely to be lacking in their diets. Fortunately, they can all be found in fortified ready-to-eat cereals – check labels to determine specific amounts. They can also be found in the following foods:
- Calcium: milk and dairy products, fortified soy milk (check label)
- Iron: meat and poultry, legumes (dried beans, peas, lentils), fish* and shellfish*, enriched breads and grain products
- Vitamin D: milk, fortified yogurt (check label), fortified soy milk (check label), salmon*, tuna*
- Vitamin E: vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, tomato paste/puree/sauce, leafy green vegetables (e.g. spinach, broccoli)
- Folate: citrus fruits and juices (e.g. orange), green vegetables (e.g. spinach, asparagus, broccoli), legumes (dried beans, peas, lentils), fortified breads
If you feel your children do not (or cannot) eat enough of any of these foods, talk to your doctor or dietitian about alternative food sources or the possible need for a supplement.
* Young children must limit their intake of fish due to mercury contamination. Children under six years old may eat half of a can (3 oz) of chunk light tuna per week. In addition, they can have another seafood meal low in mercury that week, such as salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies, cod, shellfish, trout, pollock, or catfish. If your child eats albacore tuna: limit it to one child-sized serving (3 oz/half of a can or less) per week, and avoid any other fish that week. A young child’s portion size depends on his or her weight and ranges from 1 oz for a 20-pound child to 3 oz for a 60-pound child.
Boosting Vegetable Intake
Most parents’ main concern is their children’s vegetable intake. Try these ideas to encourage your kids to eat vegetables: make it fun, disguise them (if appropriate), be creative and, most importantly, don’t give up.
The Bottom Line
Depending on how your children tend to eat, they may or may not need to take multivitamin/mineral supplements. Discuss any concerns about how your children eat with your pediatrician or dietitian to determine if a multivitamin may be needed and, if it is, which one is recommended. If your children do take a supplement, avoid the temptation to believe that it’s okay if they don’t eat well since they have taken a vitamin.
Most experts agree that the best source of vitamins and minerals is a healthy, balanced diet – not a supplement. Whether or not your children take multivitamins, ensure that they consume plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods not only contain nutrients your children need, they are packed with cancer-and disease-fighting antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber. These healthy natural compounds cannot be replicated in a pill.
Keeley graduated Summa Cum Laude from Seattle Pacific University with a Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition and a Dietetics Specialization. She went on to complete her dietetic internship at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, where she received the Distinguished Dietetic Intern Award and Scholarship.