Kids' Vitamin Guide
Most kids are more likely to grab a French fry than a broccoli floret. Fortunately, a children’s-specific, high-quality multivitamin can help provide crucial, missing nutrients, as well as build an early shield against diabetes, heart disease and childhood cancers, according to the writings of Shari Lieberman, Ph.D., a clinical nutritionist often cited for her bestselling The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book. But do children need additional supplements, and how do parents know which ones to choose? The natural health experts we tapped pinpoint the nutrients kids need and what to look for on a label.
With just 20-100 milligrams (mg) of calcium, most children’s multis don’t come close to packing in the required amount they need daily (800 mg for ages 4 to 8; 1,300 mg for kids over 9). If children don’t drink organic dairy or enriched soy milk, which contain 300 mg per cup, consider supplementing with two daily doses.
Many multis don’t contain iron because it can be harmful if taken in high doses, but youngsters still need it. A child can get the recommended 10 mg by eating meat, spinach or fortified cereals, advises Marilyn Tanner, a registered and pediatric dietitian at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. She notes that menstruating girls, who need 15 mg daily, are a possible exception.
Essential for growth and the production of red blood cells (as well as healthy gums, skin and hair), folic acid supports nervous system function and repairs DNA damaged by toxins. It also may help protect against leukemia and other types of cancer. A typical kids’ dose is 75-150 mcg daily.
Fish oil is not a food that tykes typically go for, but buy a fruit-flavored product and your little one will gulp it down. Packed with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), Lieberman notes that the omega-3s in fish oil help boost brain and eye development and decrease the risk of aggression, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Read labels to ensure that the fish oil has been tested for mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
Adults aren’t the only ones who need healthy gut flora—supplying children’s digestive system with probiotics (good bacteria) may boost their immunity by maintaining a healthy balance within the gastrointestinal tract, says Tara Skye Goldin, a naturopathic doctor in Boulder, Colorado.
In a 2005 study, people who took daily probiotics supplements for at least three months experienced shorter and less severe colds. Chewable probiotics are now made specifically for kids. Aim for 5 to 10 billion live microorganisms daily, or serve Lactobacillus acidophilus-rich yogurt.
Although vitamin A aids immunity and healthy vision, taking too much can be toxic to the liver and can leave bones prone to fracture, advises Goldin. A safer option is beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body, is water soluble and can be excreted, unlike fat-soluble, preformed vitamin A (palmitate or retinol palmitate). Pick a kids’ multi with vitamin A obtained solely through 2,100 IU beta-carotene.
During cold and flu season, increase children’s vitamin C intake to at least 1 gram, counsels Lieberman. Or add a gentle blend of herbs, such as echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) and astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), an Asian root commonly used as a tonic in traditional Chinese medicine.
Growing bones need vitamin D, which is found in fortified milk and can be gained through sun exposure—part of why outdoor playtime is important. For families who live in a cloudy climate, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids take a daily supplement of 800-1,000 IU of vitamin D.
Vitamin Rules of Thumb
Real Labels Carefully ~ Choose a complete multivitamin especially formulated for children that contains 100 percent of the dietary reference intake (DRI) of folic acid and D, E, C and B vitamins. Also consider a separate supplement that provides essential minerals, such as magnesium, selenium and calcium, which are too bulky to fit into a multi-capsule.
Go Natural ~ Avoid artificial flavors, preservatives and colors, especially dyes red 40 and yellow 6, which have been linked to cancer in animal studies.
Lock up Vitamins ~ Pick a vitamin sweetened with honey, fruit juice concentrate or molasses, rather than high-fructose corn syrup. Then, keep them out of reach so that kids can’t eat more than the recommended daily dosage.