To raise a child and give them the best nutrition and opportunities in life can be quite daunting! Questions that may often pop-up in your mind are “Am I giving my little one the best nutrition? How can I improve my little one’s immune system? How do I know if my child needs a multivitamin supplement?” To ask “Dr Google” and friends can cause a lot of confusion, so let’s have a look at what the science say.
1. Decide if your child needs a multi-vitamin
Nutrient needs of children
The best way to deliver vitamins and minerals to growing little bodies is through a diet rich in foods that are nutrient dense instead of energy dense.
|Foods that are energy dense have lots of kilojoules (energy) per serving. The kilojoules may come from protein, fat or carbohydrates and/or sugar. Foods that are nutrient dense have high levels of nutrients per serving. Nutrient density refers to the amount of vitamins, minerals, and/or protein in a food.|
Think of it this way: each mouthful of food your child eats should be filled with good nutrients, including vitamins and minerals and should not be empty foods that provide only sugar or fat.
For example, if you are comparing the labels trying to decide between two boxes of cereal. They both have similar kilojoules per serving but the one product has few vitamins and minerals. The other product has the same amount of kilojoules per serving but way more protein, minerals, vitamins and contains double the fibre. The second product is the more nutrient-dense, and preferred choice.
Which kids need multi-vitamin supplements?
Given the reality of time-crunched parents, those healthy, home-cooked meals aren’t always possible. That’s why your healthcare professional may recommend multi-vitamin and mineral supplements for kids who are at risk of nutritional deficiencies, such as
- Kids with impaired growth
- Kids on a vegetarian or a vegan diet, a dairy-free diet or other restricted diet
- Kids who aren’t eating regular and well-balanced meals made from fresh, whole foods
- Fussy eaters who simply aren’t eating enough
- Kids with low appetite that are not eating enough
- Kids with food allergies where more than one food is excluded from the diet
- Kids with chronic medical conditions such as asthma or digestive problems, especially if they are taking medications. (Be sure to talk to your child’s healthcare professional before starting a supplement if your child is on medication.)
- Kids eating a lot of fast food, convenience food and processed food
- Kids who drink a lot of carbonated sodas, which can leach vitamins and minerals from their bodies
It is recommended to first consult your dietitian or healthcare professional to get advice on a healthy diet and to determine if a multi-vitamin mineral supplement is required.
|Multi-vitamin mineral supplements should not be used to replace food from a healthy diet but should rather be used to add nutrients that may be lacking.|
2. Checklist for choosing a good multivitamin
- Top Six Vitamins and Minerals for Kids
The specific vitamins and minerals that a supplement contains are probably the most important factor to consider when choosing a supplement for your child. It is not always the supplement with the longest list of ingredients that is best, check if the supplement contains the specific vitamins and minerals that are more critical for children.
Worldwide studies have shown that kids are mostly deficient in Vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc. According to the SANHANES- study (2013) done in South Africa, 44% of kids under 5 years were vitamin A deficient and 11% were iron deficient. The National Food Consumption Survey (2009) revealed that children aged 1 – 9 years old were consuming less than two thirds of their requirements for vitamins A, D, E, B2, B3, B6, folic acid, iron, zinc, selenium and calcium.
|According to the research the most important vitamins and minerals that children in South Africa may be at risk for deficiencies are vitamins A, D, E, B2, B3, B6, folic acid, iron, zinc, selenium and calcium.|
Calcium is usually not added to a multi-vitamin mineral supplement as it inhibits the absorption of some of the minerals.
A multi-vitamin mineral supplement is recommended above single vitamin or mineral supplements. A multi-vitamin mineral supplement is a supplement that contains multiple, usually 3 or more, vitamins and minerals in a combination.
- Age appropriate
Choose a product for kids. These vitamins are specially formulated to give your kids what they need in the right amounts. Adult multi-vitamins are not formulated for your child, and your child can overdose on some vitamins.
- Quantity of vitamins and minerals
Read the label. Which will list the vitamins and minerals are in the supplement, along with the percentage of daily value (%NRV – Nutritional Reference Value). No individual vitamin or mineral should be more than 100 percent of the daily recommended value, as your child does not need more than this.
- The form of the multivitamin
Consider a kid-friendly form. Kids are generally not keen on taking medications, so picking a form that’s kid-friendly may help them to take them. For instance, you can find chewable multi-vitamins or powder sprinkle forms, which your child may be more willing to take than syrups or capsules.
A single dose or “one a day” is preferred as it is easier and more convenient.
- Sugar content
According to the SA regulations, sugar and sweeteners must be listed on the label of all multi-vitamin supplements. To make the supplements appealing to kids. Choose supplements which contain one gram of sugar or less per vitamin dose.
Additives include flavouring, colourants and preservatives. Try to avoid the artificial colourant, tartrazine which can affect children’s behaviour and should be avoided. The best supplement will contain as little as possible additives.
Food allergies most often occur in babies or during childhood. The ideal supplement should be free of food allergens such as milk, egg, fish, wheat (gluten), soya and nuts.
- Value for money
The most expensive multi-vitamin mineral supplement may not always be the best. The best multi-vitamin mineral supplement will be the one that supplies the most vitamins and minerals children need at the correct levels, at the lowest price and will therefore be good value for money.
||The powder sprinkle forms of the multi-vitamin mineral supplements e.g. MixMe® contain the least additives and sugar added. It is also very convenient as it is sprinkled over your little one’s food, has no impact on colour or taste changes to the food – so they don’t even know it is there. It also provides 100% of the recommended nutrient intake for 15 essential vitamins and minerals for children 6 months to 5 years of age.
Mi-Vitamin® Multi-Vitamin Mineral Chews for Children is a comprehensive, orange flavoured chewable tablet that contains 11 essential vitamins and 4 added minerals including iron for children 3 – 12 years of age
3. Keeping kids safe
Follow the directions carefully. Stick to the recommended dosage and never give more.
Keep the vitamins out of reach. Store vitamins in a safe place away from where kids can reach them. Discuss the use of the vitamins with your older child and explain it is like a medicine and should be taken correctly. Multi-vitamin mineral supplements can be toxic to children when taken in excess amounts.
Never call them sweets. If your child thinks the vitamins are “sweets,” they’re more likely to take a few more when you are not looking. It’s best to make it a point to tell them that they are NOT sweets.
Check for medicine interactions. Check with your healthcare professional if there are any interactions with vitamins or minerals that are in multi-vitamin mineral supplement. You may find an interaction that means your child shouldn’t take the multi-vitamin.
Watch for signs of an overdose. If you suspect that your child has taken too much of a multi-vitamin mineral supplement, contact a healthcare professional immediately.