Vitamins and Minerals - Are Your Children Getting What They need?

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Most doctors recommend adults take a multivitamin and mineral supplement for adults, but what about children? Are you confident your child is getting the nutrients he or she needs from diet alone? Studies suggest that in the United States up to 50% of children take a multivitamin and mineral supplement. While it may not be necessary for children enjoying a ‘typical’ diet, it is necessary for those with a poor diet or children with chronic medical problems. Some diseases, including cystic fibrosis, may prevent a child from absorbing vitamins and minerals in the fat properly. Thus to prevent nutritional deficiencies, a supplement may be useful.

Other children that may need vitamin supplements include infants born prematurely or babies who are exclusively fed with breast milk. Before giving a multivitamin to your child, you should consult with your pediatrician to find out whether they feel if one is necessary on not. Of course, ideally you should try to provide your child with the vitamins and nutrients he or she needs through a well-balanced diet, with servings defined by the Food Guide Pyramid.

There are some vitamins that are important for your child’s development. Here are some of the important vitamins and minerals your child needs to develop properly.

  • Vitamin A – many children get vitamin A from milk or infant formulas. Vitamin A is a fat soluble nutrient. Deficiencies are common only in children with malabsorption problems, like those with cystic fibrosis, or children with a poor diet. Eating too much vitamin A can be harmful for your child’s development.

  • Vitamin C – Infants under one year of age fed cow’s milk may be at risk for a vitamin C deficiency. Vitamin C deficiency is rare. One of the best sources of vitamin C for your children is fruits and vegetables.

  • Iron – Iron is an important mineral for your children’s development and growth. Most toddlers need roughly 10mg of iron every day. Their needs increase to about 12 mg once they are older.

  • Calcium – Calcium is vital for strengthening your child’s bones and preventing osteoporosis later in life. Foods high in calcium are a must for children of all ages. Younger children need 800 mg of calcium every day, while older children may need up to 1500 mg every day. Foods high in dairy include milk, cheese, yogurt, broccoli and other dark green leafy vegetables.

  • Vitamin D – Vitamin D deficiencies lead to a condition called Rickets. This may be a problem for some babies who only get breast milk, especially if their exposure to the sun, a natural source of vitamin D, is limited. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children receive supplements of vitamin D except those that drink formula. The recommended dose for babies exclusively breastfed is 200 IU of vitamin D every day.

  • Zinc – Zinc is helpful for combating illness and for stimulating sexual and reproductive maturation in children. Infants need up to 5 mg of zinc every day, while teens and adolescents need up to 15mg every day. Good food sources of zinc include seafood, meats, fortified cereals, whole grains and beans.

Dietary Recommendations for Getting Daily Allowance of Vitamins
It is important that children learn early on to eat a variety of foods so they can maximize the nutritional value of the foods they eat. A diet of pizza and chips is not going to provide the same benefits as a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. While at times it is difficult to convince a child to eat all wholesome foods presented to them, many are willing to at least try different varieties. It is important you introduce as many new foods as possible to your child’s palette to help ensure they are getting enough vitamins and minerals. Foods that are especially useful for children include:
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Cereals
  • Beans
All of these contain ample vitamins and minerals for your children. You should encourage your child to also eat lean meats including fish, but in moderation. Dairy products contain enough calcium to support growing bones, but some children are sensitive to cow’s milk and related products. Fortunately there are many alternatives on the market today.

You want to limit your child’s exposure or consumption of refined and sugary foods. These provide little if any nutritional value, and easily become addictive. Of course, you don’t want your child to feel deprived. The main point is to try to create balance by offering your children a wide selection of foods to choose from. If you have sliced vegetables and fruits readily available in the refrigerator, your child is much more likely to lurch for the when a snack attack hits.

Remember, a well-balanced diet incorporates foods from each of the four food groups. If you have concerned about your child’s vitamin and mineral intake, be sure to consult with your pediatrician. They may recommend a vitamin and mineral supplement suitable to meet your child’s needs.