All growing children need good nutrition, but are dietary supplements absolutely necessary? MH finds out.
WORDS REBECCA WONG
Tired of forcing your fussy eater to eat his or her vegetables? We’ve all been there. It’s common for parents to consider health supplements as a means of boosting your child' nutrition, but do children really need supplements for healthy growth? When it comes to whether or not to pop the pill, here’s what you need to know.
Are Supplements Essential for Kids?
Most experts agree that if your child is eating a variety of foods, supplements are not required. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), providing kids with selections from each of the basic food groups should result in a balanced diet full of vitamins. Food intake also tends to balance out over time in young children. “Though they might not receive perfectly balanced amounts of grains, protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables, if they are offered healthy food daily over the span of a week, their food intake should average out to meet their needs,” says Baby Gourmet Foods co-founder Jennifer Carlson in Growing Up Gourmet: 125 Healthy Meals for Everybody and Every Baby.
Supplements – Who Needs Them?
Currently, there are six at-risk groups of children identified by the AAP who could benefit from supplements. These include children with chronic diseases like inflammatory bowel disease and cystic fibrosis, small appetites, anorexia and those that use diets to combat obesity, explain Patricia Queen Samour and Kathy King (RD) in Handbook of Pediatric Nutrition. Additionally, kids who don’t get regular sunlight exposure or those who don’t eat enough dairy products may require supplements.
A multivitamin might be helpful if you’ve got a picky eater on your hands, adds Carlson.
Most multivitamins contain small amounts of several vitamins and minerals,
so they are not harmful and may, in fact, benefit your child.
Do Supplements Carry Side-effects?
“Some vitamins can be harmful if consumed in huge doses over a prolonged period,” mentions Christine Ong, senior principal dietitian, Nutrition and Dietetics Department, KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH). “Too much vitamin A can result in increased intracranial pressure and skeletal abnormalities in infants, as well as hair loss, hepatomegaly, lethargy, headache, weight loss, vomiting, anorexia and skin lesions. An overdose of Vitamin C may cause gastric irritation and diarrhoea. Too much iron can affect zinc absorption.However, so long as an age-appropriate supplement is given to your child in the recommended dose, the levels of vitamins and minerals should be within the safe limits.”
Westridge Health Center (Utah) paediatrician Dr Cindy Gellner also recommends against supplement drinks for children. “Not many of us actually recommend those unless your child has a lot of weight-gain issues. These contain lots of sugar and fat, a single gummy vitamin a day is a much better option.”
Be Sure to Note
Given how some supplements may be packaged in attractive forms, shapes and colours, it’s essential to remind your little ones that supplements are not candies, advises Roberta Duyff, RD and author of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide.
Supplements like multivitamins may be tasty for kids, but they should always remember
not to reach for it whenever they have a craving for something sweet. Sit them down and
educate them on the dangers of overconsumption in regards to their long-term health.
To prevent unmonitored consumption, make sure the ones you choose come in bottles with childproof caps. They should also be stored well out of your child’s reach.
Ultimately, the most important thing for parents to be aware of is that supplements are not a “magic formula” to boost your child’s immunity and overall health. Sure, they’re convenient and easily accessible, but they are definitely not a cure for ailments or an excuse not to provide your children with balanced meals. In fact, many enriched and fortified foods contain the exact same nutrients as these supplements. “Supplements are exactly that, they are meant to supplement the diet, not replace it. Whole, natural foods are still the best way for your children to obtain essential nutrients,” reminds Mitchell.