Do your kids need vitamins or supplements?
Our experts explain why healthy eating is so important
Kim Mangham, M.D., a Cook Children’s pediatrician in Keller, estimates most kids get sick about 6 to 8 times a year, which can cause frustration for parents and leave them wondering if they should do something more to keep them healthy.
“They often times ask me if they should give their child a vitamin,” Dr. Mangham said. “Generally speaking, kids do not need to take a multivitamin or any supplements, for that matter.”
What is better than a multivitamin a day?
- A good night’s sleep - every night.
- A healthy, well-balanced diet.
- Exercise and outside time
- Good hand washing before meal time.
Dr. Mangham said going back to the basics with the above recommendations will boost your child’s immune system much more than any supplement could.
Recently, the New York Attorney General’s office cracked down on many major retailers, saying the herbal supplements they were selling didn’t live up to the promises on the label.
Joel Steelman, M.D., an endocrinologist at Cook Children’s said the quality testing program that stores such as GNC plan to put in place is a positive start, a lot of the herbal supplements have little hard science to really back up effectiveness.
“In my opinion, herbal supplements don’t really have a place for use in children,” Dr. Steelman said. “I’ve done research in the past on behalf of families asking about alternative treatments to use along with their child’s diabetes care. Most of the research is very weak. I suspect that very weak describes most data on use in children, and there’s a variety of medical case reports on negative effects of supplements on children.”
Jessica Holy, a Cook Children’s dietitian in Neurology, is frequently asked what vitamins and/or supplements are worth taking. She said that answer differs for parents and their children.
“Most of us have heard that if we tend to eat a variety of foods, then we don’t need a vitamin/mineral supplement. There is truth in that,” Holy said. “If you usually eat several servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, calcium-rich dairy and quality protein sources daily, then you are likely meeting your need for most vitamin and minerals. But how many of us have diets like that? Even though I’m a dietitian, I freely admit that I do not have a perfect diet. The busy pace that most of us keep makes it difficult to plan healthy meals for ourselves and our family. We often find ourselves turning to grab-and-go options at the grocery store or fast food. If this resembles you, then taking a regular, adult multivitamin daily may be a good idea.”
In children, a multivitamin might be needed during times of fluctuating appetite and food jags (only eating a few specific foods). For instance, children who aren’t getting enough iron in their diet may need to take an iron supplement for a period of time, until they begin eating more protein.
For the most part, children are able to get their needed vitamins through what they eat. Infants get their necessary vitamins through breastmilk (including routinely fortified with supplemental vitamin D) and/or formula intake and toddler and school-aged children are often able to achieve their need for calcium and vitamin D by drinking milk.
But beware excessive milk intake (greater than 24 ounces daily).
“Milk has some good nutrients, but it is lacking in iron,” Holy said. “Children who drink large quantities of milk are not often hungry for regular meals that provide iron-rich foods.”
If your child is allergic to milk, talk to your pediatrician for alternatives.