Children's vitamins are much more fun than those for adults are. They look like popular animated characters and feature tasty fruit flavors. But does your child need to take a vitamin supplement to be healthy?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), healthy children who eat a well-balanced diet do not need to take vitamin supplements beyond the recommended daily allowances (RDA).
"The amount your child needs to eat in order to get enough vitamins and minerals is fairly minimal," says Dr. David Hall, a double board-certified internal medicine and pediatrics doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. "Even with picky eaters, a few choices each day from the basic food groups will provide the amount of nutrients they need."
Vitamins important to a child's growth and development include:
- Vitamin A, found in sweet potatoes, carrots and leafy greens
- B vitamins, found in fish, milk, whole grains and eggs
- Vitamin C, found in citrus fruits, tomatoes and papayas
- Vitamin D and calcium, found in fish, eggs and dairy products
"Vitamin supplements may be appropriate for children with poor appetites, erratic eating habits or those who consume a highly selective diet, such as vegan or vegetarian diets with no dairy products," Dr. Hall says.
He cautions that while over-the-counter pediatric multivitamins are generally safe, vitamins taken in excessive amounts can cause side effects such as nausea, headaches and diarrhea.
Do babies need vitamin supplements?
The AAP recommends a vitamin D supplement of 400 international units (IU) daily for exclusively breastfed babies.
"Once your baby is one year old and has switched to vitamin D-fortified whole milk, then supplementation is no longer needed," says Dr. Hall. He adds that babies who are fed formula and taking in 32 ounces a day receive enough vitamin D.
For full-term infants older than 6 months, Dr. Hall says two servings of either pureed meats or fortified infant cereal can help supplement their daily iron needs. He also recommends vitamin B-12 supplementation for breastfed infants of strict vegetarian mothers.
Nutritional needs for teens
A balanced diet of whole grains, lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy can help teens keep up with their daily needs of calcium, zinc and iron.
Based on the RDA, Dr. Hall suggests the following:
- Calcium: 1,300 mg per day for both boys and girls
- Zinc (found in beef, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes): 15 mg for boys and 12 mg for girls
- Iron (found in beef and leafy greens such as spinach): 11 mg per day for boys and 15 mg per day for girls; Dr. Hall adds that some experts recommend up to 25 mg a day for girls heavily involved in athletics
"For some teenagers who frequently skip meals, often avoid one or more of the basic food groups, or who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, it may be beneficial to supplement with a multivitamin that provides their RDA of these minerals, plus vitamin D and B vitamins," he says.