vitamins and supplements for children

Do you give your child a multivitamin?  What about other supplements?  Since school is back in session and we have less control over what and who our child is exposed to (aka less than ideal food and germs), it's a good time to consider your child's diet and potentially supplements.

Most children don't eat perfectly balanced diets most days (if any).  In fact, less than 20% of kids get the required 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.   Additionally, a child's diet, appetite and affinity for healthy food can change daily- every day is different around here!  So when I'm asked if I give my children a vitamin and if I think it's necessary, my response is "most of the time it can't hurt, and can really help."

So what is the right multivitamin for kids and what other supplements do kids need?

1. Multivitamin with minerals:
*look for something with minerals added as many kids' vitamins don't contain or lack sufficient amounts of minerals, specifically those listed below.  These nutrients are particularly important because they tend to be lacking in a typical child's diet:

  • magnesium- magnesium helps maintain muscles, bones and nerves and is essential for preventing metabolic syndrome.  Processed foods contain little magnesium.  Pumpkin and sunflower seeds as well as cashews and black beans are good sources.  Another great way to get magnesium in your child is through salts in their bath.  I add 1/2 cup of baking soda and 1-2 cups of epsom salts to their baths at least 1x per week.  
  • chromium: Chromium is important for metabolism and blood sugar control.  There is a loss of this nutrient when foods are refined, so the more processed one's diet, the greater the risk of deficiency.  In fact, the american diet is more deficient in chromium than most other diets due to our affinity for processed foods!
  • folate-  Look for a vitamin that contains "folate" not "folic acid".  Folate is the food based vitamin while folic acid is the synthetic form.  Research suggests that folic acid isn't metabolized as well and thus isn't as effective (and potentially even harmful).  Look for a supplement that has FOLATE.  This article further explains the difference between folate and folic acid.  

*Look for a vitamin/supplements that are non-GMO

*Avoid the gummy: not only are they bad for a child's teeth, valuable B vitamins are often removed to make them taste better.


2. Omega-3s:
*If your child doesn't eat much fish, eggs or grass-fed meat or consumes a lot of processed foods, he or she may not be getting the right omega-3 to omega-6 fat ratio.  Low levels of Omega-3s are associated with skin conditions, anxiety, ADD and speech delays to name a few.

*We use Nordic Naturals Omega 3 with Vitamin D lemon flavor (in liquid form as it's most bioavailable and effective).  I give them 1 tsp a few times per week.  Serving wild-caught salmon 1-2 times per week is another great way to get the omega-3s in!

*Fermented cod liver oil is another great choice but my kids don't love the taste...I can hardly blame them.  The one thing that helps is combining a bit of the liquid vitamin mentioned above with the cod liver oil.  Even a little bit is a good start.

3. Probiotics:
*Gut health is essential to boosting your immune system, especially with school starting and the introduction of new germs.

*Supplements are a good choice (I like Garden of Life and Biocult but there are many good brands out there).

* Fermented foods like Bubbies pickles, kefir, miso, kimchi and kombucha are also great choices and don't add the additional expense.  My kids love kombucha and pickles!


4. Vitamin D:
* Being in school all day with limited recess time and shorter days means kids get little sun exposure.

* Aim for 1000 IU Vitamin D/day for children 3+.  Our omega-3 supplement has vitamin D or you can get it on its own.

5. Nourishing Food:
Finally, the very best way to get vitamins, minerals and other nutrients is usually from FOOD.   Here are a few kid-friendly ideas to increase the nutrients your child might be lacking:

*Smoothies:
  • 1 cup greens (spinach or kale), 1/2 cup each pineapple, mango and cucumber, juice of 1/2 lime and a little water or ice.  Add 3/4 cup plain, whole fat yogurt if you wish to increase the protein. 
  • Or this Toddler-friendly green smoothie
*Trail Mix
  • 1 cup each cashews and pistachios, 1/2 cup each pumpkin and sesame seeds, 2 Tbsp each organic raisins and dark chocolate chips
*Grass-fed beef taco bowls
*cashew ranch dip
*Salmon patties with dip 

At the end of the day, it's important to remember that no one and no diet is perfect.  Don't sweat the small stuff, just try to make good choices most of the time, avoid processed and packaged foods as much as possible and introduce your children to all kinds of foods and experiences.

And PS, this article, Demystifying the Diet by Kelly Dorfman discusses the prevalence of gluten and dairy allergies and low zinc levels and their manifestations in children.  I highly recommend reading it.

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