Should your kids be taking multi-vitamins?

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Wednesday, 25 July 2018.
Tagged: health, healthy eating, healthy kids, healthy lifestyle, kids, nutrition, vitamins

Should your kids be taking multi-vitamins?

Do your kids need a multi-vitamin? Or perhaps a single specific vitamin like Vitamin D or a mineral like iron? As a general rule, I don’t think it’s a good idea to give children vitamin pills. If they’re eating a reasonably balanced diet, they should get all the vitamins and minerals they need from foods, so supplementation isn’t necessary.

If you believe your child needs a supplement, it’s best to talk to your doctor, early childhood nurse or paediatric dietitian about the right type and correct dosage. Don’t believe the persuasive marketing of celebrity naturopaths, health food shops and even well-meaning pharmacists.

Pros and cons for supplements

 Here are my reasons for and against giving supplements to children.

Good reasons to give a supplement:

  • If your child has been sick or has had an operation and been unable to eat, then extra vitamins and minerals or protein (in the form of a powder) can help in the short term until they’re eating properly again.
  • Kids on any type of restricted diet can need a little nutritional help at times. This includes fussy eaters who omit whole groups of foods such as meat or vegetables, and children with allergies (e.g. dairy intolerance) who can miss out on particular nutrients such as calcium. Vegetarians may need additional iron and zinc.
  • Kids on an elimination diet or gluten-free diet – don’t do this without proper advice – need a supplement. Your health professional will advise which one when you embark on the diet. Remember an elimination diet is a test diet, meant for a short time, not forever.
  • Teens on fad diets, such as no-carb diets for weight loss, can miss out on fibre and B vitamins.
  • Kids who have been shown to have a deficiency through a blood test e.g. Vitamin D

Vitamins Children 2

Reasons to think twice:

  • Children can find taking tablets difficult at the best of times, and it may be a battle to get them to swallow a supplement regularly. Syrups and liquid tonics are easier to ingest, but then you have to check for colours, added sugars or sweeteners, and preservatives. Chewable multivitamin tablets can cause dental erosion from the acidic nature of vitamin C on tooth enamel.
  • It’s easy to get the dose wrong. Children of the same age can vary greatly in size. Dosages are based on body weight, not age, so you’ll need to know exactly how much your child weighs. Large doses of supplements can be harmful for children – particularly iron and vitamins A and D.
  • Keeping toddlers away from medicines is always a problem. Accidentally swallowing iron supplements is the most common cause of poisoning in young children, who mistake them for lollies. Excess iron can be fatal for a small child. Keep all supplements well out of reach of children. Some of the food your child is eating may already be fortified or enriched with vitamins and minerals. Most breakfast cereals have four B vitamins and iron and most bread has extra iodine and vitamin B1 (thiamin), while orange juice sometimes contains added calcium.
  • Many so-called ‘complete’ multivitamins do not have all of the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals that your child needs each day. For example, most don’t contain enough calcium because it’s impossible to fit 1 gram (a large quantity) into a ‘one a day’ pill.
  • Remember no pill can be a substitute for nutrition. There’s no way that taking a pill can replace all the nutrients available in vegetables and fruit. Parents still need to ensure their children are eating a balanced diet. 

Times you may need extra vitamins for your child

Vitamins Children 1Despite what I’ve just said above, in certain situations your child may require additional vitamins, in which case supplements can be of help. Take a look at these scenarios.

Fussy eaters

Children who refuse to eat major food groups like dairy, meat or vegetables.

Children on a restricted diet

The removal of whole food groups such as grains and/or dairy also eliminates the vitamins and minerals they contain.

Vegans

Kids in vegan households who eat no animal products at all may run short on vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as essential fatty acids. Remember children are growing and have requirements for growth and normal health. If you are opposed to any supplements at all, then an egg from a neighbour’s chicken that’s raised with love and respect is a suitable way to boost your child’s intake of these animal nutrients. 

New eBook from Catherine

Foodwatch Vitamins Ebook cover 203x127mm FINAL WhatWhyWhere OnePageThis is an extract from Catherine new ebook “Vitamins – what, why and where” which is for sale on this website. Click here to buy.

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby knows nutrition! She is an accredited nutritionist, food commentator, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Catherine Saxelby's Food and Nutrition Companion answers all those tricky questions on healthy eating, diets and supplements. It draws together a lifetime of advice and gives you all you need to know to eat right! It's a complete A to Z. A handy desk go-to reference.