If you have a toddler who has a meltdown at the thought of eating more than two bites of something green, you know that getting children to eat a well-balanced diet isn’t easy. Whether to start giving their child vitamins is a question many parents have, as well as at what age they should start. However, for most healthy children, vitamins are unnecessary.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children receiving a normal, well-rounded diet do not need vitamin supplements at all. Still, it can be difficult to know how many vitamins your child is getting each week. A toddler’s plate after dinner is finished may look like a crime scene. Did they actually consume any of that broccoli, or did it just get pushed around? When in doubt, it’s important to talk with your pediatrician about supplementation.
Reasons NOT to Give Your Child Vitamins
A big reason why your child may not need a daily vitamin is because human bodies don’t actually need large amounts of vitamins. In fact, it’s probably a much smaller amount than you think. Even for children who mostly subsist on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, it takes just a few picks from each of the basic food groups for them to get their daily dose of vitamins.
Many vitamins also are stored in the body. So, while it should be the goal to have your child eat lots of fruits and vegetables every day, a balanced diet can be achieved over the period of a week. If one day’s diet goes awry, there’s likely no reason to turn to a multivitamin. Just ensure that the next day is filled with healthier choices.
It’s also important to remember that many modern foods are fortified with vitamins, calcium and iron. While building a diet complete with vegetables, fruit, fish, eggs, beans and other vitamin-packed foods is important, other store bought staples often contain additives like vitamin D or iron. Next time you pick up a loaf of bread or a jug of milk or orange juice, check the label! Reading labels for nutritional info is a great way to gauge your child’s consumption.
Overall, consuming vitamins naturally found in food is a healthier choice to receiving them unnaturally through supplements. The body absorbs nutrients from broccoli or butternut squash much more effectively than it absorbs nutrients from a multivitamin. While it may seem harmless to give your child vitamins “just in case,” receiving too much of certain vitamins actually can cause adverse effects. For example, large doses of vitamin A, C or D can cause headaches, nausea, rashes or even more serious toxic symptoms.
Unfortunately, some parents also treat multivitamins or other supplements as a replacement for the healthy foods their children should be eating. But, no supplement can replace feeding kids a well-balanced diet. If you find yourself trying to weigh out the “bad” part of your child’s diet with a vitamin, then it might be time to speak with your pediatrician about a long-term healthy diet strategy.
Reasons to Give Your Child Vitamins
If you have a picky eater at your dinner table, it may give you peace of mind to provide a daily multivitamin. Yet, no matter the age of your child, it’s recommended to first consult with your provider. Not all vitamins are manufactured the same. In fact, just like other supplements, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate vitamins.
For those with children who have restricted diets, illnesses or conditions, a daily dose of vitamins may be recommended by your pediatrician. For instance, if your child doesn’t consume dairy, your doctor may recommend a calcium supplement. (Although, it’s important to note that calcium exists in many non-dairy foods, including beans, fish, tofu, spinach and others.) Or, if your child has cystic fibrosis, fat-soluble supplements may be needed.
Overall, if your child has a medical condition or is eating a special diet—such as a vegan or raw diet—it’s always advisable to check with your provider to see if they may need extra vitamins, calcium and/or iron.
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