It’s easy to worry about your kid getting proper nutrition; they seem to exist on air and 2 bites of yogurt and peanut butter. When you’re worried about whether their bodies are growing strong it’s easy to want to give them a multivitamin. It seems like the best idea; they need vitamins and minerals and they eat so little compared to adults. But should children really be taking a multivitamin?
When Kids Should Take a Multivitamin
If your child is sincerely suffering from a disease or illness than a multivitamin may be for you. Some examples of diseases and illnesses are; failure to thrive or celiac disease. It’s at this point that your child is probably lacking essential nutrients used for growth and a daily multivitamin can add a protective layer.
If your child is being raised a vegetarian or a vegan they may need increased nutrients in the form of a multivitamin or specific nutrient like vitamin B12. Because children grow so quickly and proper nutrition is essential in the beginning for growing bodies; it can be harder for children who live a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle to get all the nutrients they need. Cutting out entire groups of food can be limiting to a body demanding cell turnover and nervous system function. Adult vegans and vegetarians are different. Although adults need a bigger quantity of nutrients children demand quality nutrients; because they grow, change and use so much more energy than adults do.
What Kids Should NOT Take a Multivitamin?
For most children a multivitamin isn’t necessary and this is why:
Children eat smaller portions of food than adults because they are smaller than adolescents, teens or adults (simple, right?!). This doesn’t mean they’re getting less nutrients; on the contrary, they are getting the perfect amount of nutrients for a child, when they’re eating a balanced diet 90% of the time. For example while a 13 year old needs 1300 mg of calcium (3-4 cups of milk or dairy) a 4 year old needs 800 mg of calcium (1-2 cups of milk or dairy). While a 13 year old needs 45 mg of Vitamin C (a whole orange) a 4 year old needs 25 mg of vitamin C (half an orange).
Make sure your child 2-6 year old is getting;
- 2 servings of meat (2-3 ounces is one serving)
- 2 servings of milk or dairy (1 cup of milk yogurt or 2 ounces of cheese is one serving)
- 3 servings of vegetables (1/2 cup raw/cooked 1 cup leafy is one serving)
- 3 servings of fruits (1/2-3/4 cup is one serving)
- 6 servings of whole grains (1 slice of bread, ½ cup rice or pasta, 1 ounce of cereal is one serving)
Sometimes you can think about children’s nutrition in terms of days. If they forget veggies one day, but munch away the next you’re probably fine. If they want to eat nothing but cereal and milk for a day then peanut butter and jelly for a few days, you’re going to be fine. When you can’t remember the last time they drank milk or ate yogurt or had a slice of whole grain bread, you might want to pay closer attention to their nutrition.
What Nutrients DO Children Really Need
There are a few nutrients children absolutely need like iron, calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients represent strong growth and development for kids in terms of bone health, proper blood regeneration and circulation and immunity.
Make sure your child is maintaining an adequate amount of calcium and vitamin D daily in terms of fortified milk, cheese, yogurt, green vegetables (spinach, lettuce, broccoli have calcium) and play time outside (for a little vitamin D). Vitamin D and calcium are used together in the body to build strong bones. When one of these vitamins is missing weak bones and breaks are more likely to occur. A cup of milk, a half cup of cooked broccoli, a half cup of cheese or yogurt will lead the way to high levels of calcium and vitamin D. Vitamin D and calcium are also used in the body as powerful antioxidants. When they’re lacking you may notice your child is fighting off colds or infections more than other times.
Iron, found in meat like beef and chicken and vegetables like spinach and beans, is also incredibly important for children. Iron creates healthy blood cells in the body which carry oxygen to muscles and organs. Without adequate iron in our diets we’d go through life sluggish, pale and have muscle tremors due to the lack of oxygen and red blood cells. Iron deficiency anemia in children is a serious condition but luckily avoidable with iron fortified cereals and iron found in meats and vegetables.
The American Academy of Pediatrics does NOT recommend a multivitamin for children. It’s found that when multivitamins are used, they are then used in place of healthy eating. Research on multivitamin use in infants, Early Infant Multivitamin Supplementation Is Associated With Increased Risk for Food Allergy in Asthma, also found that 3 year olds who were formula fed and given multivitamins had an increased occurrence of food allergies, perhaps due to the poor formation of T-cell, the fighter cells in our bodies. The use of multivitamins made the T-cells participate more in inflammation in the body rather than removal of allergies. When it comes to vitamins and minerals, fresh is best.
Randolph C., MD, Milner J.D., Stein D.M., McCarter R., Moon R.Y. Early Infant Multivitamin Supplementation Is Associated With Increased Risk for Food Allergy in Asthma. Pediatrics. 2004;114:27–32