by Lisa Stag-Tout, Wellness Manager
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that most children do not need vitamin supplements as long as their diet is based on the Food Guide Pyramid, but sometimes kids just won’t adhere to governmental guidelines. There are also vegetarian kids who need vitamin B-12 and kids with allergies or food intolerances who may need calcium and magnesium. So, first and foremost, talk to your health care provider if you have any concerns about your child’s unique nutritional needs.
My personal opinion on kids’ multivitamins is that they are supplements to a good basic diet. My children were never what you might call “picky eaters.” Fruits, vegetables and whole grains were the staples in our diet without very many sweets. I would give them a chewable multivitamin only two to three times a week before they were in first grade, and I usually gave them half of the recommended dosage. Once the scholastic social pressures became apparent (“Eeew, nobody likes spinach!”), I increased their vitamin intake to four to six times a week and this would change with the seasons. Spring and fall were the times of year that I noticed small injuries due to growth spurts and the clumsiness of navigating a rapidly growing body. I would mix liquid calcium and Emer’gen-C with orange juice for a tasty afternoon pick-me-up. If life was stressful due to back-to-school days, state assessment tests or watching the world news, I’d supplement with a multi that had more B vitamins and perhaps add echinacea for a few days as a preventative measure. Now that they are teenagers and sleeping late trumps breakfast, I make protein shakes two to four times a week (see recipe idea at the end of this article) in addition to my erratic multivitamin regimen. I still opt for less than the recommended amounts because we still eat a good basic diet, although I don’t have control over soda and other sweets like I used to.
Calcium and Vitamin D
These certainly get their share of press. Currently, statistics courtesy of the US Department of Agriculture say that only 14 percent of girls and 36 percent of boys between the ages of 12 and 19 get the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of calcium. Just this past September, a study done in Australia states that calcium supplements do not increase bone density in adolescents and suggests that vitamin D may be the key to stronger bones. As long as kids aged four to eight are getting three dairy servings (about 800 mgs) and kids aged nine to eighteen are getting four dairy servings (about 1300 mgs) a day, then experts agree that all is well. As for vitamin D, if you’re not getting 15-20 minutes per day of summer sunlight then you’re not getting enough to make the vitamin D you need. Current research is linking low levels of vitamin D to cancers, heart disease, diabetes, the flu and even depression and schizophrenia. So in the winter months, my family has started taking vitamin D 1000 mgs several times a week. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfed babies in northern parts of the country be supplemented with 200 International Units (IU) of vitamin D per day because they don’t get enough sunlight on a regular basis to prevent rickets. Using sunscreen blocks this vitamin along with the harmful UV rays. You can read more about what the AAP recommends on this website: http://www.aap.org/family/vitdpatients.htm.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
Growing bodies and especially brains need long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 oils from fish. Many studies are leading us to believe that the 1.6 million elementary school children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) can benefit from fish oil supplementation. This makes sense because children with ADHD have been shown to have low levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in their blood. DHA, one of those long-chain fatty acids, is important in the development of the central nervous system. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is mostly known for improving the cardiovascular system and for reducing inflammation.
My kids used to like emulsified, orange-flavored cod liver oil until some silly adult tried it in their presence and then nearly spit it across the room. I’ve never been fond of taking liquid fish oil even though that is the form that is most widely recommended. The softgels by Nordic Naturals or Natural Factors have been just fine for me but they are pretty big pills. Nordic Naturals also makes a chewable tablet that many kids like, but the best-tasting fish oil, in my opinion, is Coromega. It comes in individual packets and is very creamy and pudding-like. (It’s pricey, but still less expensive and easier than cooking fish two to three times per week.) We usually have samples at the Health and Wellness desk if you’d like to try it. Coromega will have a new product and flavor out soon—coincidently the product is higher in DHA and is specifically for kids. It’s a fabulous kid-appealing lime green color and flavor.
Words of caution
Iron supplementation can lead to poisoning in small children, so it is vital to get a physician to diagnose and prescribe supplements that contain iron.
And finally, since children’s vitamins often look and taste like candy, it’s important to keep them out of reach. When was the last time a kid wanted only one gummy bear?
For further information
It might be helpful to know that there are two common standards in dietary supplements, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) and the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI). RDAs are intended to prevent deficiencies, but DRIs identify quantities beneficial to health. For more detailed guidance, download a copy of the Dietary Reference Intake table by going to the US Department of Agriculture’s website at http://www.usda.gov and typing “DRI table” into the search box. While I personally get overwhelmed by all the information to be accessed on these tables, it is a good base of knowledge to draw from. One more interesting website brought to you by the National Institute of Health (NIH), the Office of Dietary Supplements is http://dietary-supplements.info.nih.gov/.