Many parents worry that their children may not be getting enough nutrients from food alone, but they're also not sure if they should be giving them a multivitamin.
Unfortunately...there is no consensus. Experts tend to disagree about vitamin recommendations for children who don't display signs of deficiency. The naysayers claim that children don't need large amounts of vitamins and minerals, and that even picky eaters should be able to get enough from food. On the other side are those who think of a basic children's multivitamin as an "insurance policy" that can fill in the gaps of a not-so-great diet.
In my office, we approach this case-by-case. If it's clear that a kid is not eating a well-rounded diet, we may recommend a children's "multi." If we feel a parent is unduly concerned, we try to reassure them, but will also give them the option of an "insurance policy" multi.
Is there a downside to the "insurance policy" approach?
It's probably fine. My only concern is that some foods are already overly fortified with vitamins and minerals (specifically some breakfast cereals and bars). In other words, even kids who don't take a multivitamin often get one without even knowing it.
Two nutrients you don't want to overdo:
1. Vitamin A (specifically from retinol, palmitate, or acetate; if it comes from beta carotene, it's fine). Chronic intake of excessive amounts through fortified food and supplements can cause big problems.
2. To a lesser degree, zinc is also a concern. Too much zinc over prolonged periods of time can depress your immune system and lead to a copper deficiency.
So check the fortified foods your child eats. If they provide 100% vitamin A and/or 100% zinc, and you're not willing to lose that fortified food, do not add a multivitamin to the mix. On the other hand, if your child does not eat a lot of fortified foods (or the fortified foods do not contain an abundance of straight vitamin A and zinc), you can feel free to go ahead and add a standard multi.
If you decide to give your child a multivitamin, choose a brand that's formulated specifically for children and that provides about 100% of the RDA for all of the vitamins and minerals listed (always avoid megadoses unless prescribed by your pediatrician).
Here are a few of my favorite chewable multivitamins for kids:
- Flintstones Complete
- Puritan's Pride Gummies
- One A Day Kids Complete (the chewables, not their gummies)
- Freeda Vitalets (100% vegetarian, yeast-, gluten- and lactose-free).
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