One topic that never fails to elicit lots of conversation (sometimes very passionate conversation) is the question of whether or not children need vitamin supplements. There are nutrition and medical experts on each side of this discussion, and the opinions shared on both sides are well-researched and convincing.
Once a parent has determined to give vitamin supplements to their children, the next question becomes which one? Do you just grab the Flintstones off of the shelf of the chain pharmacy down the street, or do you face the overwhelming number of choices at the local health food store?
Children’s Multivitamins: To supplement or not?Photo by D Sharon Pruitt
Doctors often advise parents that unless a child is on a restrictive diet or doesn’t eat well-balanced meals, there is no need to offer vitamin supplements. Most health and nutrition experts agree that the best way to deliver vitamins to growing bodies is through a diet rich in foods that have high nutritional value.
On the other hand, many parents observe a child’s picky eating tendencies and become concerned that there is no way that child is getting complete nutrition through the food he is eating. After we watched a documentary called Food Matters, my husband and I concluded that because of the incredible ways our bodies respond to vitamins, all four of us could use a boost in the vitamin department.
I want to make it clear that I am not a health professional; I’m just a parent like you! Each of us have the responsibility to research and decide on what is best for our own unique children and circumstances – especially when it comes to the health and well-being of our children. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide if a vitamin supplement would be best for your child.
Do infants need vitamin supplements?
This is another area of conflicting advice. Breastfeeding mothers are sometimes advised that iron or Vitamin D drops must be given to their new babies. During the first six months of life, a full-term baby who is exclusively breastfed does not need vitamin supplementation. Kellymom.com provides this overview of vitamins and the breastfed baby and includes this statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
No supplements (water, glucose water, formula, and so forth) should be given to breastfeeding newborns unless a medical indication exists… Exclusive breastfeeding is ideal nutrition and sufficient to support optimal growth and development for approximately the first 6 months after birth.
Breastmilk offers perfect nutrition for babies, and babies who are formula-fed receive the right amounts of vitamins and nutrients. Generally, parents have no need to consider vitamin supplementation until past the first year when they may begin to notice a lack of dietary diversity.
What should I look for in a children’s vitamin supplement?
Based on the research I have done, I believe the single-most important aspect of a vitamin supplement is whether or not it is derived from whole food sources.
In her article A Natural Approach to Pregnancy Supplements, Nicole wrote about why vitamins derived from foods are so important. Essentially, the vitamins and minerals found in food sources are the ones most easily digested and used by our bodies. Some research indicates that synthetic vitamins (such as those found in the majority of commercial vitamins) may actually even be harmful to our bodies.
Ideally, we would receive all of our nutrition from whole food sources. This chart from Dr. Sears is a great guide to knowing which foods are good sources of individual vitamins. If children are resistant to vitamin and nutrient foods listed on the chart, then the next best option is a multivitamin derived from foods.
What should I avoid in a children’s multivitamin supplement?Photo by the Italian voice
Two things to be especially concerned about in children’s vitamins are artificial sweeteners and iron in the form of ferrous sulfate.
Children love sweets, and offering a sweet, gummi-like vitamin to a child is a sure way for it to be received well! Unfortunately, many commercial vitamin companies choose Aspartame or high fructose corn syrup as sweeteners. Even the multivitamins with natural sugars should have one gram of sugar or less per vitamin.
Because of the sweet, gummi form of children’s vitamins, there is the very real possibility that children can get into a bottle of multivitamins and accidentally overdosing. As Dr. Mercola explains in his article on children’s vitamins, an overdose of iron in the form of ferrous sulfate is what causes sickness and even death in children who have taken too many by accident. Carbonyl iron is widely regarded as the safer form of iron.
What multivitamin do you use or recommend?
After doing a lot of research, we decided on Rainbow Light Kids’ One Multivitamins. We were impressed with the fact that it not only contains food-based vitamins, it also has other minerals and amino acid chelates that are most effectively utilized by our bodies. Nordic Naturals and Floradix are two brands that are also popular amongst natural living-minded parents.
I remember the first time I went into a health food store to buy supplements for my children, I turned around and walked out empty-handed. It shouldn’t be so confusing and overwhelming! Thankfully, a little research and asking other trusted parents for opinions and recommendations helped to clarify some things for me. Hopefully, these tips have provided some guidance for you as well!
So, let’s hear it! Do you give vitamin supplements to your children? Why or why not? Do you have a particular brand that you rely on?