Vitamins and minerals are important for healthy growth and development in children. Children who eat a well-balanced diet usually do not need a vitamin or mineral supplement. However, some children are at risk for deficiencies and may need a supplement.
When to Supplement
Children who follow vegetarian or vegan diets may need to supplement with vitamin B12 since it's only found in animal-based foods. Children who have celiac disease are at a higher risk for nutritional deficiencies and may need supplements. Additionally, children who have a poor appetite, drink a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages, take certain medications or have chronic medical conditions that interfere with intake may need a supplement.
Parents should strive for a well-rounded diet to ensure their child meets the daily recommended vitamin and mineral intakes. A balanced diet includes dairy or dairy alternatives, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and protein foods such as poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and legumes including beans and lentils. While all vitamins and minerals are important for growth and development, some are especially critical for children.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most children do not get enough iron and calcium from their diets. Iron is found in beef, pork, turkey, beans and spinach. Iron helps build muscle and is needed to produce red blood cells. Signs of low iron levels include a lack of energy, nervousness and increased infections. Calcium is needed to grow healthy bones. It is found in milk, sardines and fortified plant-based beverages and juices, with smaller amounts in broccoli and spinach. A lack of calcium can lead to poor growth and osteoporosis later in life.
Other vitamins of concern are vitamin D, vitamin A and the B vitamins. Vitamin D controls the absorption of calcium and aids in the development of bones and teeth. Vitamin D is produced in the body after sunlight exposure and found in some foods, including fortified dairy and dairy alternatives, egg yolks and fish oils. Children who consume less than 32 ounces of vitamin D-fortified milk or dairy alternatives daily may need a supplement to meet recommended amounts. Excessive intake is not beneficial and drinking more than 32 ounces of milk can cause low iron in the body. B vitamins help with metabolism and energy and are found in animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy, as well as nuts, beans and soybeans. Vitamin A is important for normal growth and promotes healthy skin and eyes, immunity, and tissue and bone repair. Good sources include yellow and orange vegetables, milk, cheese and eggs.
Seek Advice First
Discuss supplements with your child's health care provider before giving them to your child. Taking large amounts of vitamins that exceed the recommended daily amount can be toxic and lead to symptoms such as nausea, headaches or diarrhea. Always store supplements out of reach from children. Thousands of children are taken to the emergency room each year after taking a vitamin or mineral while unsupervised. Supplement bottles are not required to have child-proof lids. In addition, supplement ingredients are not as closely monitored as prescription drugs by the Food and Drug Administration, so always practice caution when supplements are in the home with small children.
While there are circumstances when supplements may be needed, getting vitamins and minerals through food and drink should be the goal for growing children. If you feel your child may need a supplement, consult their health care provider.