Does your child need a vitamin or mineral supplement?
Today, there’s a lot of noise around how vitamin supplements have become essential for proper nutrition. However, the need for adding a supplement to a child’s diet depends on a number of factors and the decision is best left to the child’s paediatrician. Kids who are eating a healthy, well-balanced diet do not usually require supplements.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the different micronutrients and the natural food sources that they can be obtained from. We’ll also talk about the special circumstances in which your child may require a supplement and how you should go about it.
How to ensure that your child gets all the micronutrients she needs?
Supplements should always be the last option, and your first priority should be to make sure your child is getting all the nutrients from his or her daily diet. Some of the main nutrients that a child absolutely requires are given below:
Iron is absolutely vital for growing children and many of them do not get adequate iron from their diets. Iron helps build muscle, produce red blood cells and helps in brain development, especially in early childhood. While meats like chicken and turkey are good sources of iron, children can also get iron from vegetarian sources like beans and spinach. Providing iron-fortified cereal is also a good idea especially when your child is more than 6 months old and you have started introducing complementary foods in his or her diet. A lack of iron can result in fatigue and a listless child.
Vitamin D is another nutrient that is absolutely crucial for developing children. It helps them absorb calcium and aids in the development of teeth and bones. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight, so make sure your children spend enough time outdoors and get adequate exposure to the sun. Vitamin D can also be found in a few food sources such as egg yolk, fish oils, and vitamin D-fortified milk. However, given the importance of vitamin D for the growth and development of a child and the widespread vitamin D deficiency among children in India, paediatricians often recommend supplements.
Calcium is needed for the development of healthy bones and is one of the most important nutrients for growing kids. Luckily, it can be found in a number of food sources, including milk and dairy products, dried fish, sesame seeds, broccoli and spinach. Dairy is the easiest way to include calcium in the daily diet. However, if your child is lactose-intolerant, you will have to make a special effort to ensure he or she is getting calcium from other sources.
Often, kids end up drinking too many sugary beverages instead of milk, which again interferes with their calcium intake. Remember that calcium deficiency in the growing years can also lead to bone weakness and osteoporosis later in life, so it’s important to ensure adequate calcium in the child’s diet.
The eight B vitamins, collectively called B complex, include thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folate (B9) and cobalamin (B12). They help improve metabolism and energy levels. While they are most commonly found in meat, dairy products, and eggs, vegetarian sources like nuts, beans, and soybeans can also meet the daily requirement. Fruits and vegetables are also packed with B complex vitamins, so ensure that you give your child enough servings of these, every day.
Vitamin A is another nutrient that is responsible for your child’s overall growth and wellbeing. From better immunity to tissue and bone repair to healthy skin and eyes, this vitamin takes care of many things. While dairy products (particularly milk and cheese) and eggs have large quantities of preformed or active vitamin A, orange and yellow coloured fruits and vegetables contain β-carotene, which is a form of vitamin A that gets converted to active vitamin A in the body. Other sources of β -carotene are dark green vegetables like spinach, methi leaves etc. Adding a dollop of ghee or butter to foods rich in vitamin A can increase its absorption by the body.
When are supplements needed?
Supplements are usually not needed if your child follows a healthy well-balanced diet. However, there might be some circumstances in which your child may need these. A paediatrician will be able to gauge this need best. Some of the conditions where supplements are required are:
- Veganism: Vitamin B12 is usually only found in animal-based foods, and so a completely vegan diet may require B12 supplements.
- Celiac disease: Celiac disease results in reduced absorption of nutrients from the diet. Hence, if your child has celiac disease, there is a higher risk of nutritional deficiency, in which case, supplements may be needed.
- Other medical conditions: Children with poor appetites, chronic medical conditions, and those on certain medications may require supplements.
- Unhealthy eating habits: Kids who have a lot of sugary beverages like carbonated beverages and fast food may need supplements as they may suffer from micronutrient deficiencies
Important things to keep in mind
Taking excessive vitamins may actually be harmful for your child and lead to side effects like headaches, nausea, and diarrhoea. Only give supplements to your child when they are prescribed by your doctor. Also, make sure that you keep the vitamins and minerals away from your child so that there is no unsupervised consumption.
The bottom line is that, children should ideally be getting their vitamins and minerals through a healthy, well-rounded diet. If you think your child is suffering from a nutritional deficiency, consult your doctor before giving him or her any supplements.