Most Parents Are Providing a Dietary Supplement to Their Kids. But Is It Necessary?
Parents often have to be creative to get their little ones to eat a well-balanced diet. Whether it's hiding veggies in fun foods like mac and cheese or dressing them up in silly shapes, it can be a challenge to get kids to eat the rainbow.
A new survey from the International Food Information Council finds that more than 75 percent of parents think a supplement is extremely important. But is that really true? We speak with a pediatrician and a children's nutritionist to uncover if your child needs a supplement or vitamin.
Do Children Need Supplements?
Eating a wide variety of whole foods is the best way — for both adults and children — to consume vitamins and minerals. This is because food contains both valuable micronutrients like vitamins, and macronutrients like protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. But, according to pediatric dietitian and founder of The Nourished Child, Jill Castle, this winning combo just isn't available in a supplement.
Picky eaters, or those who follow specific diets or lifestyles, may benefit from a supplement to help fill in any nutritional gaps. According to primary care pediatrician Dr. Katie Lockwood, supplements may also be prescribed as part of a treatment plan, for example, to aid with caring for conditions like migraine, ADHD, and autism.
Adding a supplement may be a good choice if meeting nutrient recommendations, also known as dietary reference intake (DRI), is an issue. Vitamin C, for instance, is found in most fruits and veggies, as well as in many fortified foods. Thus, the majority of individuals meet that DRI, according to the government fact sheet. Other recommendations can be more challenging, especially for omega-3 consumption (getting two servings of seafood per week) and vitamin D, especially for those who either live in northern countries or don't drink milk.
What Supplements Should Children Take?
Children who skip certain food groups may benefit from a complete multivitamin. Multivitamins can cover a range of nutrients; Dr. Lockwood recommends looking out for one that includes iron if that is lacking in your child's diet.
According to the National Institute of Health, iron deficiency is not uncommon in young children in the United States. (Good sources of iron include lean meat and seafood, or nuts and beans for plant-based eaters.) Lockwood also notes that "chewable vitamins that are not gummies are preferred as gummies are not good for children's teeth."
Registered Dietitian Jill Castle adds that picky eaters could benefit from a complete vitamin and mineral supplement, providing Lil' Critters Complete Gummies as an example.
According to Castle, children who follow a vegan diet may want to consider a B12 vitamin, as well as vitamin D and iron supplement, depending on their eating habits. So long as children are consuming eggs and fish, Castle notes that children shouldn't require extra supplementation if they are following a pescatarian diet. An omega-3 supplement may be useful for those who aren't eating enough seafood.
How to Avoid Vitamin Toxicity
Supplements come in a variety of forms, from chewables to gummies to syrups. With fun shapes, bright colors, and yummy flavors, vitamins can seem more like candy than health additive. But vitamin toxicity can occur if a child consumes more than the recommended daily limit.
If your child ingests more than the recommended dose of a vitamin, call the National Capital Poison Center immediately. Always monitor your child's consumption of vitamins, as Castle shares "the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K are potentially toxic if given in high doses." Her tip? Treat vitamins like medicine, and stress the importance of not taking extra to your kids.
Bottom Line: Speak to your child's healthcare provider before adding a new supplement to your child's diet. Some supplements can have contraindications with medications and even foods.
Castle also notes that you should pick "a nutrient supplement that is made for children. Follow the proper dosage based on the child's age to avoid any ill effects."
Dr. Lockwood notes that supplements are not tested or regulated like prescription medication. Many independent consumer-rights websites, such as Labdoor, provide third-party testing to consider any impurities, quality, and safety of these products.