Vitamins for Kids: Do They Need Them?

Food is their best source of vitamins, but some children need a nutrient boost
By Elizabeth Streit, Healthline
April 18, 2019 Updated: April 18, 2019

As children grow, it’s important for them to get enough vitamins and minerals to ensure optimal health.

Most kids get adequate amounts of nutrients from a balanced diet, but under certain circumstances, children may need to supplement with vitamins or minerals.

Nutrient Needs for Kids

Nutrient needs for kids are dependent on age, sex, size, growth, and activity level. According to health experts, young children between the ages of 2 and 8 require 1,000–1,400 calories each day. Those ages 9–13 need 1,400–2,600 calories daily—depending on certain factors, such as activity level.

chart of vitamin recommendations for children
A child’s diet should meet the above Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for vitamins. (Healthline)

Children require some amount of every vitamin and mineral for proper growth and health, but exact amounts vary by age. Older children and teens need different amounts of nutrients than younger kids to support optimal health.

Kids need the same nutrients as adults—but usually, require smaller amounts.

As children grow, it’s vital for them to get adequate amounts of nutrients that help build strong bones, such as calcium and vitamin D.

Moreover, iron, zinc, iodine, choline, and vitamins A, B6 (folate), B12, and D are crucial for brain development in early life.

Thus, although kids may need smaller amounts of vitamins and minerals compared to adults, they still need to get enough of these nutrients for proper growth and development.

Children and Vitamin Supplements

In general, kids that eat a healthy, balanced diet don’t need vitamin supplements.

However, infants have different nutrient needs than children and may require certain supplements, such as vitamin D for breastfed babies.

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the United States Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines for Americans don’t recommend supplements over and above the recommended dietary allowances for healthy children older than 1 who eat a balanced diet.

These organizations suggest that kids eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein to obtain adequate nutrition.

These foods contain all of the necessary nutrients for proper growth and development in children.

Overall, kids who eat a balanced diet that includes all food groups don’t usually need vitamin or mineral supplements.

Some kids, however, may need supplemental nutrients

Even though most children who eat a healthy diet don’t need vitamins, specific circumstances may warrant supplementation.

Certain vitamin and mineral supplements may be necessary for kids who are at risk of deficiencies, such as those who:
• follow a vegetarian or vegan diet
• have a condition that affects the absorption of or increases the need for nutrients, such as celiac disease, cancer, cystic fibrosis, or inflammatory bowel disease
• have had a surgery that impacts the intestines or stomach
• are extremely picky eaters and struggle to eat a variety of foods

In particular, kids who eat plant-based diets may be at risk of deficiencies in calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamins B12 and D—especially if they eat few or no animal products.

Vegan diets can be particularly dangerous for children if certain nutrients like vitamin B12—which is found naturally in animal foods—are not replaced through supplements or fortified foods.

Failing to replace these nutrients in children’s diets can lead to serious consequences, such as abnormal growth and developmental delays.

However, it’s possible for children on plant-based diets to get adequate nutrition from diet alone if their parents are incorporating enough plant foods that naturally contain or are fortified with certain vitamins and minerals.

Children with celiac or inflammatory bowel diseases may have difficulty absorbing several vitamins and minerals, especially iron, zinc, and vitamin D. This is because these diseases cause damage to the areas of the gut that absorb micronutrients.

On the other hand, kids with cystic fibrosis have trouble absorbing fat and, therefore, may not adequately absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.

In addition, children with cancer and other diseases that cause increased nutrient needs may require certain supplements to prevent disease-related malnutrition.

Finally, some studies have linked picky eating in childhood to low intakes of micronutrients.

One study in 937 kids ages 3–7 found that picky eating was strongly associated with low intakes of iron and zinc. Still, the results indicated that blood levels of these minerals were not significantly different in picky compared to non-picky eaters.

Nevertheless, it’s possible that prolonged picky eating could lead to micronutrient deficiencies over time and may warrant nutritional supplements as a result.

Choosing a Vitamin and Dosage

If your child follows a restrictive diet, cannot adequately absorb nutrients, or is a picky eater, they may benefit from taking vitamins.

Always discuss supplements with a healthcare provider before giving them to your child.

When choosing a supplement, look for quality brands that have have been tested by a third party, such as NSF International, United States Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, Informed-Choice, or the Banned Substances Control Group.

Importantly, choose vitamins that are specifically made for kids and ensure that they don’t contain megadoses that exceed the daily nutrient needs for children.

Precautions for Children

Vitamin or mineral supplements can be toxic to children when taken in excess amounts. This is especially true with the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K that are stored in body fat. One case study reported vitamin D toxicity in a child who took too much of a supplement.

Note that gummy vitamins, in particular, can also be easy to overeat. One study cited three cases of vitamin A toxicity in children due to overeating candy-like vitamins.

It’s best to keep vitamins out of reach of young children and discuss appropriate vitamin intake with older kids to prevent the accidental overeating of supplements.

If you suspect that your child has taken too much of a vitamin or mineral supplement, contact a healthcare provider immediately.

Ensure Your Child Gets Enough Nutrients

To ensure children are getting adequate amounts of nutrients so that they don’t need supplements, make sure their diet contains a variety of nutritious foods.

Incorporating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and dairy products (if tolerated) into meals and snacks will likely provide your child with enough vitamins and minerals.

To help your kid eat more produce, continually introduce new veggies and fruits prepared in different and tasty ways.

A healthy diet for kids should limit added sugars and highly processed foods and focus on whole fruits over fruit juice.

However, if you feel that your child is not getting proper nutrition through diet alone, supplements can be a safe and effective method to deliver the nutrients children need.

Consult your child’s pediatrician if you’re concerned about your child’s nutritional intake.

Elizabeth Streit holds a master’s in human nutrition from Drexel University and a bachelor’s in environmental studies from the College of the Holy Cross. She is as a registered dietitian who specializes in translating science to the kitchen and creating healthy and delicious recipes. This article was first published on Healthline.com

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