How Are Nutrient Needs for Children Different From Adults?
There are two very important things to understand when it comes to the difference between giving vitamins to adults and children. The first difference should be apparent: children’s bodies are smaller than adult’s bodies, so naturally, they don’t need the same amount of food or vitamins as adults do.
Secondly, children do not metabolize vitamins as quickly or in the same way as adults. So some vitamins may not be recommended for children at all. No matter how good you may think a vitamin is, excess doses – or even small doses – can be potentially fatal to a child.
How Can You Tell If Your Child Is Getting Enough Supplements?
Every parent wonders if their child is getting enough nutrients at one time or another. Children can often be picky eaters, limiting their natural intake of healthy nutrients. How do you know when it’s enough?
If your child suffers from any health conditions or is eating a vegan or vegetarian diet, you may want to consider asking your child’s pediatrician for blood tests and regular follow-ups to make sure they are on track. Children can get plenty of the vitamins and nutrients they need from a vegan or vegetarian diet, as well.
Here are the signs or symptoms to look out for that may indicate your child is not getting enough vitamins and nutrients:
- Low energy compared to other children their age
- Pica, which is when children crave non-edibles (like dirt or sand)
- Very dry skin
- Overweight or underweight
- Dental problems
- Slow healing speed
- Bruises easily
- Constipation or unusual changes in bowel movements
If you suspect your child is not getting enough vitamins and nutrients, consult with your child’s physician sooner rather than later. A doctor who monitors your child’s growth rate annually can be very helpful in recognizing nutrient deficiencies.
When Should Kids Take Vitamins?
Ideally, kids should be getting all of the vitamins they need from their diet alone. However, this doesn’t always work out for a number of reasons. Here are a few instances in which adding vitamins to your child’s diet may be helpful:
- Your Child is a Picky Eater. If your child is so picky that he or she is consuming far less than they should be or not enough of a varied diet, you may want to consider vitamins.
- Your Child Has a Health Condition. If your child suffers from a health condition that either affects their appetite or their digestion, they may not be getting everything they need from food alone. A vitamin supplement could be very helpful to them.
- You live in a cold climate. If you live in an area when access to fresh fruits and veggies can be lower during the coldest times of the year, your child may not be eating as much fruit. They may eat strawberries by the truckload in summer but not be too attracted to any other fruits in February.
- Your child consumes lots of processed food. If busy weeknights have your family eating fast food often, it’s safe to assume your child is getting plenty of carbs but not many nutrients from their diet. Vitamins can help for children who eat very few nutritious foods.
- Your child drinks a lot of soda. Soda drinks can actually suck vitamins from your system, undoing all of the good efforts from lunchtime’s vegetable soup.
- Your child has a restrictive diet. If your child eats a vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free diet, that may not be getting all of the nutrients they need.
Can Children Be Too Young for Vitamins?
Generally, vitamins are only recommended after age four. Some children may occasionally take vitamins prior to that. It is essential to discuss your plans to include vitamin supplements in your child’s diet with their pediatrician first. Only a qualified health practitioner can help you make the safest decision for your child’s health.
How Can Supplements Benefit My Child?
For children who do not get enough of crucial vitamins, supplements have many benefits. For example, low iron intake can lead to a slew of health problems. Adding an iron vitamin supplement can increase iron levels and diminish the effects of the low iron levels.
Supplements can help give your child more energy by giving them the nutrients they just can’t or won’t consume on their own. This can help them build a stronger immune system to fight off colds more easily and improve your child’s general health.
What Are the Most Common Supplements for Kids?
Kids do not need the same type of vitamins as adults do. In fact, there are only a few they really need to grow and lead a healthy life:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
What Are the Best Vitamins for Kids?
The best vitamins for kids are multivitamins made for children. This ensures they are receiving plenty of the vitamins need at the appropriate dosage. Try to look for a product that contains the least amount of sugar, which is an ingredient you want to avoid in everything as much as possible, or artificial flavorings.
Why Does My Child Need these Vitamins?
You may be wondering why your child needs some of these above-mentioned vitamins. Here is a brief rundown of how some of these vitamins work to make your child healthy and strong:
- Calcium – Every child needs proper amounts of calcium for healthy bones and teeth.
- Fiber – Children need fiber to have a healthy digestive system. If they do not eat enough natural fiber, it can lead to chronic constipation, which may cause other health problems, as well (like hemorrhoids, for example).
- Iron – Iron is necessary for healthy brain development, healthy red blood cells, and strong muscle building. Low iron can cause your child to feel weaker and more tired, as well.
- Vitamin A – This vitamin contributes to a healthy immune system as well as healthy bone and eye development.
- Vitamin B12 – The group of B vitamins contributes to a healthy immune system, healthy connective tissue, and proper nervous system and circulatory system development.
- Vitamin D – This vitamin helps the body absorb calcium better. As we age, we have less and less of it, which means many older individuals need to take both calcium and vitamin D supplements. While most children get enough, children in climates with fewer hours of sunshine may have less. Vitamin D is essential to the body’s processing and absorption of calcium.
How Is My Overweight Child at Risk for Vitamin Deficiency?
Eating more food does not automatically mean your child is getting enough of the proper nutrients. Obesity is usually the result of over-eating unhealthy foods, like processed foods and sugars. Eating more unhealthy foods isn’t the answer. The key is variety and balance.
The same goes for underweight children. While they may not be consuming as much food as an overweight child, it doesn’t automatically mean they are eating a healthy and well-balanced diet. Children have incredibly fast metabolisms, and their genetics may help that even further. Perhaps they had fast food every night this week, but it doesn’t show.
Health and quantity of food eaten are not synonymous with one another. How much a child eats isn’t nearly as important as what they are eating.
How Can My Child Get Vitamins From Foods?
If you want your child to get all of the necessary vitamins from their diet alone, you have to make sure they are eating a well-balanced diet. This should include lean meats, fish, poultry, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables – particularly green leafy ones.
How Do I Get My Picky Eater to Get More Vitamins From Food?
If your child is picky and refuses many healthy foods, try offering up fruits and veggies as snacks. Children often prefer raw vegetables to cooked ones, and they are even healthier that way.
If your child eats very little at a time, try to offer up snacks often throughout the day to compensate for the small portions. If you still cannot get your child to eat enough of the healthy foods they need for growth and development, ask your physician about trying vitamins.
Are There Any Cons to Taking for Kids?
The only downside to vitamins is the result of offering too much of what they do not need. Vitamin C toxicity can be dangerous for a child – or even an adult, for that matter. If their levels of Vitamin C are normal, there is no reason to add a vitamin supplement into the mix.
Too much of a good thing can have disastrous consequences. While most children can take daily children’s multivitamins safely, it is always recommended to consult with your child’s pediatrician first.
In addition, some vitamins may be safe, or even recommended for adults, but are not necessary or contraindicated for children. For example, Vitamin D is an essential vitamin, but most children produce enough of it on their own. Adults have less as they age and need supplements. Just because supplements are good for older people does not make them safe for kids.
The best way to decide what vitamins to give your children is to meet with their doctor and discuss your children’s health on an individual basis. This way, you’ll know exactly what your child is or isn’t getting. Plus, your doctor can educate you further on the warning signs to look for when it comes to vitamin deficiency.
The Big Picture
More often than not, children in first world countries are getting all of the nutrition they need from a well-balanced diet. However, because some children do not have access to or do not want to eat healthy and nutritious foods at all times, vitamin deficiency is not unheard of in the United States.
The best things you can do for your child are to minimize refined sugars and processed foods, offer healthy and nutritious foods several times per day, look out for symptoms of nutrient deficiency, and bring your child to the pediatrician at least annually to ensure they are healthy.
If you want to introduce vitamins into your child’s life, visit your child’s doctor first, and discuss it. This is the only way to assess your individual child’s needs properly and make sure you avoid over-supplementing a child who does not need it.
Not all children need vitamins, but for those who do, it can offer many benefits. Proper nutrition and adequate levels of vitamins and minerals are essential to proper growth and development – both physically and mentally – and crucial to your child’s health in every way.