Kids Nutrition – Vitamins & Supplements

With all the bottles of vitamins, minerals and other supplements lining the shelves of health food stores and supermarkets, how do parents know whether supplements are healthful or harmful to their children?

There is so much controversial advice about their benefits and dangers. Though the key to good health is always a balanced diet, vitamin and mineral supplements can help round out any deficiencies – especially if your child is a picky eater.

Q: I’m expecting my first baby in a couple of months and am planning on breastfeeding her. Will she need any supplements?

A: Although breast milk is definitely best for your baby, it does not contain enough of your baby’s daily requirement of vitamin D. A lack of this important vitamin can cause serious illness, such as rickets, a disease that weakens bones.

That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a daily dose of 400 International Units (IU) of vitamin D that comes in a liquid multivitamin such as Poly-Vi-Sol for the first year of a baby’s life. Once your child is over a year, she will be getting more of the vitamin D she needs to grow and develop properly from fortified solid foods and milk.

If you give your daughter any formula, you should know that formula is already fortified with vitamin D. However, an additional vitamin D supplement will ensure that she gets the recommended daily requirement, regardless of how much formula she drinks.

If you decide not to or only partially breastfeed your baby, make sure you give her iron-fortified formula until she is 12 months old. Once you start your baby on solids, she’ll also be getting iron from iron-fortified cereals, green leafy vegetables and meats.

Q: My 2-year-old son doesn’t like eating many fruits and vegetables. Should he be taking a vitamin supplement?

A: Young children can be notoriously picky eaters, so a multivitamin supplement can help make sure your son gets all the vitamins and minerals he needs to grow and develop properly until he is eating foods from all the food groups. If your son is also a vegetarian, he may benefit from taking a multivitamin with iron. Talk to your doctor if your son is vegan; he might need a B-12 and folate supplement.

Q: My 12-year-old daughter has a pretty healthy diet. Does she still need to take a multivitamin?

A: If your daughter has started her period, a daily multivitamin with iron can ensure that she doesn’t get anemic. It’s also important that she is getting enough calcium-rich foods, such as low-fat milk, cheese and yogurt, to build strong bones and teeth. If she does not like dairy products, either a daily dose of chewable TUMS or drinking calcium-fortified orange juice can be easy ways to ensure she gets enough calcium.

Q: My doctor recommended that my children take a fluoride supplement. Is this necessary?

A: Fluoride is important to ensure your children’s teeth are strong and healthy. Your children can take fluoride as a multivitamin that includes fluoride, either in liquid format, or if they are older, as a chewable tablet. The amount of fluoride a child needs is based on their age. If your water supply already contains fluoride, your children won’t have to take a supplement.

Q: I’ve heard that overdosing on certain vitamins can cause serious health problems. My 6-year-old daughter takes a daily multivitamin. Do I need to worry that she is getting too much of a good thing?

A: If you are giving her an over-the-counter multivitamin for children, such as Flintstones or Centrum Junior, make sure you always follow the instructions on the label and don’t give her over the recommended daily 100 percent dose of any vitamin. Overdoses of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K can be harmful.

One other word of advice: Although children often enjoy the taste and texture of Gummy vitamins, they can increase your child’s risk for getting cavities.

Manisha Panchal, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Santa Clara Center. Advice is not intended to take the place of an exam or diagnosis by a physician.

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