There’s a decent amount of confusion when it comes to the decision to give our children vitamins and supplements. Store shelves (real or virtual) are filled with tinctures and gummies marketed towards children. And you’ve likely heard that, in general, pediatricians don’t recommend vitamins for children who eat a “normal” diet. There are exceptions to every rule (see below, especially as it pertains to vitamin D) but the bottom line is that supplemental multi-vitamins are not an essential part of a child’s diet. If your child eats a rainbow of foods, it’s unlikely they need pile of additional minerals and vitamins in pill form.
4 Things To Know About Children And Vitamins
- Daily Intake of Essential Vitamins & Minerals: daily recommendations for intake of essential vitamins (essential nutrients for daily functioning not made inside the body, with the exception of vitamin D) and minerals (inorganic elements from soil or water like calcium and phosphorus) vary by age. As you can imagine, it is unnecessary that you count milligrams of vitamins or the number of minerals your child eats throughout the day. But do remember that children will not need the same amount of vitamins and minerals that you do — sharing adult vitamins or supplements with children is never recommended. In this case think of children as pint-sized.
- What About Vitamin D? We do want children to get vitamin D in their diet — in general most children in the US get the majority of their vitamin D from cow’s milk and other dairy products even though they can get it elsewhere (egg yolks, fish). As you know, another way to get vitamin D is from sunshine; the sun stimulates the body to make vitamin D. I recommend you get vitamin D by eating it, as opposed to sunbathing, to avoid negative health effects from the sun. All that being said, the typical American diet tends to be lower in vitamin D than desired and levels of vitamin D deficiency have urged new recommendations for vitamin D compared to when we were children. Listen up, especially if you’re a smarty pants and use sun protective clothing and sunscreen well. A recent American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement on bone health coupled with previous recommendations from The Institute of Medicine (and The AAP) recommend that infants and children get supplemental vitamin D on daily basis. Recommendations include 400 IU of supplemental vitamin D daily for infants and 600 IU daily for children over age 1 years. Vitamin D comes in drop, liquid, or chewable forms. Often, you can get the daily recommended dose of vitamin D in a child multi-vitamin as well.
- Health Halos: There is a plethora of foods advertising “fortified” ingredients or foods “with minerals and vitamins” that may appear to imply that the foods boost health and wellness. There’s no question that food advertisers are trying to create a “health halo” around their products. If your child eats a wide variety of fruits, veggies, protein sources, dairy and whole grains, there is simply no need to eat packaged foods that are fortified. Focus on sharing meals and foods you love with your children. Check out the above video where I explain a bit more. The Environmental Working Group brought this issue front and center over the summer with a big report about fortified foods packed with sprayed-on vitamins, at adult levels. The EWG found fortified cereals were the #1 source of excessive nutrient intake in children and vitamin levels in cereals were designed for adults even though children consume quite a bit of cereal in most homes. With multiple servings of cereal (often one serving of cereal is just 3/4 cup and you know how a child or teen can consume more!) children may be taking in more essential vitamins and minerals than necessary. Look for cereals that don’t have additional vitamins/minerals if your child adores that bowl of cereal.
- Exceptions To Vitamin Rules: Children with underlying health problems, chronic disease, selective diets (veganism, for example) or developmental challenges that change how they eat or how they digest what they eat can shift the recommendations towards daily vitamins. Of course talk to your doctor about vitamins and supplements.
The above recommendations and notations are about vitamins and supplements in children. If you are concerned about your own (adult) intake or diet, supplements or vitamins, consult your own clinician and/or dietician. If you’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant or breastfeeding it’s typically recommended you take a daily multivitamin for pregnant or nursing mothers. Here’s a nice overview about essential vitamins and minerals in adults and questions to ask your doctor if you have concerns.
This post was written in partnership with OTC Safety.org. In exchange for our ongoing partnership helping families understand how to use OTC (over-the-counter) meds safely they have made a contribution to Digital Health at Seattle Children’s for our work in innovation. I adore the OTC Safety tagline, “Treat yourself and your family with care all year long.” Follow @OTCSafety #OTCSafety for more info on health and wellness.