I can still remember the taste of the Poly-Vi-Flor fluoride vitamins my mom used to give my sister and me when we were kids. The colored little chewable powdery squares had a very distinct taste to them – like grape Smartees with a hint of earthy, meaty chemicals. Delicious. While I now shudder thinking about giving my little guy anything to ingest with fluoride in it, I didn’t give it a second thought when I was a kid (and I am sure it was fine then…I turned out OK, right?). My mom, along with the millions of other parents out there, just wanted the best for her kids and made sure she and my dad provided what was recommended (she and I still don’t see eye-to-eye on certain supplements, including fluoride, which is OK). Many parents today still ponder about the effectiveness of supplementing with vitamins, and if they choose to do so, which ones do you choose from? With selections ranging from sugary gummy vitamins that kids will think of as candy (I’ll get into my concerns about this later) to every cartoon character shape pressed into a pile of powdered raw materials, what ARE we supposed to be selecting for our kids? Who wants to take vitamins anyway? I know adults who even cringe at the thought of swallowing vitamins. Well, the answer is not easy, so I will do my best to break it down as much as possible.
Foremost, I will start off by saying I am believer in vitamins and supplements to complement a balanced, healthy diet. With that said, I by no means am supporting the use of vitamins to replace any healthy food source of vitamins, minerals, healthy fat, etc. Sure, in a perfect world void of toxins, environmental issues, corrupt businesses manufacturing garbage products and claiming them to be healthy, and severe nutrient deficiencies in our soil that our food grows in, we wouldn’t need any vitamins or supplements (oh yeah, and that’s assuming that every person ate a perfectly balanced diet to boot). Unfortunately, that is not the case in our world today and our bodies are on overdrive trying to maintain balance and homeostasis in an extremely unbalanced world. As critical as proper nutrition is, many of us do not even start out with the necessary balance of nutrients to nourish our bodies as much as they should be, which can lead to health complications down the road. We live in a world where unfortunately, it is becoming common practice to “fix everything with a pill,” and I do not want this article to be about that. Rather, I have found through rigorous efforts, my own trial-and-error findings, and countless hours researching that through proper supplementation, we can help to “fill in the gaps” of what our diets (even “balanced” healthy diets!) are lacking for us. Not to mention, children can be picky – VERY picky – when it comes to eating, which poses even greater challenges with making sure they are taking in everything they need to – on a daily basis – to grow strong and healthy. In addition, there are some supplements that we take that I feel are simply best taking in supplement form, for the “all-natural” form is pretty hard to come by or just not feasible to “eat” on a daily basis (i.e. spirulina and chlorella tabs we take [a type of green algae superfood that is grown and cultivated for human and animal consumption]).
Something else to take into great consideration when deciding upon if you want to supplement with vitamins and/or anything else (like fish oil, probiotics, etc.) is the QUALITY, bio-availability (how well your body absorbs and actually utilizes it), potency, and effectiveness of the product. A scary fact that I am realizing is that there are so many products on our shelves that are FULL of garbage – literally. There’s an alarming amount of supplements being tested by labs and third-party independent researchers that are finding SCARY amounts of dangerous bi-products in supplements. Take calcium supplements for example. Would you expect to find LEAD of all things in something that’s supposed to build healthy teeth and bones? Well, there are more and more samples being found that contain harmful substances like lead, mercury, fillers, other heavy metals and toxins. And people are paying money for this stuff thinking it’s doing them well. So…. What the heck are you supposed to buy!??! How and WHY are these supplements allowed to be sold? It’s a fine line, song and dance through the FDA and manufacturers (which I’ll have to go into another time). Basically, you just can’t read a label and hope for the best. Here are some suggestions:
WHAT SHOULD YOU EVEN BE CONSIDERING IN TERMS OF SUPPLEMENTS?
While knowing the exact vitamin and mineral composition of your child would be best (yes, this is possible by a blood test that is not common nor routinely done) to determine what your child needs exactly, that’s not the case. So, here is a list of my recommendations to help keep kids healthy, immune-charged, and building those bodies, muscles, bones, brains and eyes (also check out this previous post that lists the top 6 vitamins parents should make sure kids are getting enough of: https://mysuperfoods.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/the-top-6-vitamins-and-minerals-for-kids/) :
- A good multivitamin. Multivitamins are a great way to “patch up” the holes in our daily diets when the healthiest meal didn’t make it to the table, little Johnny didn’t want to eat ANYTHING healthy, or there are stressors affecting the body on a daily basis (illness, environmental pollution, not enough sleep, etc.). Many of the vitamins and minerals in a multi are water-soluble and will pass through the urine if the body does not need them. Fat-soluble vitamins like A,D,E, and K and iron are the ones you need to watch out for too-high amounts as they are stored in the body and can build-up over time (although this is normally hard to do) unless supplementing in high doses.
- There are a ton of cheap, low-quality brands out there that won’t even be absorbed the body most of the time. Avoid these. And by “these” I mean bargain-brands that you find lining the shelves of popular drug stores, grocery stores, and stores like Target, Wal-Mart, and K-Mart. These brands are cheap for a reason – it’s because low-grade ingredients have been used to make them and the manufacturing process is probably less-than-ideal. Even if it has a USP seal (this is a “certification” claiming that the vitamins have been tested and show purity, etc.), that does not mean it’s high-quality. Bottom line: these are full of unnecessary ingredients like allergen-type fillers, artificial colors, artificial flavorings, SUGAR, and some questionable bi-products that you wouldn’t want entering your body. Just read the label of a vitamin brand like “Nature Made.” Hmm…did nature make Red 40 and artificial flavorings? I didn’t think so.
- I do NOT think gummy chewable vitamins are the best choice. Many times, these are full or sugar – just as much as candy. Not to mention, for young kids, it’s tempting for them to want to eat more…which is something you do NOT want to encourage with a product that a child can overdose on. Just because they taste good, are marketed towards kids and have claims on the label does not mean they are good. Believe me – there are other ways to get vitamins (healthy ones) into your kids.
- You don’t need to use a chewable! Believe it or not, I give my 18-month old his capsule vitamins every day without him even knowing it. I open up the capsule to shake the powder out into his yogurt that I mix with fruit. This is actually a great way to get vitamins easily into young kids who really can’t be eating chewable vitamins.
- Here are a few brands I like: these brands do not contain anything artificial, fillers, or any allergen-linked ingredients like soy, gluten, casein, etc. They are rigorously tested for purity, impeccable manufacturing standards, and bio-availability. Some come in chewable form, but don’t use sugar or artificial ingredients to make them taste good.
- Kirkman (http://www.kirkmanlabs.com/) – this is the brand we use and that our doctor recommends. This lab ultra-tests and has been in business for many years. Instead of turning heaving profits, they re-direct their earnings into rigorous testing of every raw material they use to make the vitamins with. Believe it or not, they turn away around 40% of ingredients brought to them due to any form of contamination or level of detectable harmful bi-product like heavy metals. I feel very confident giving these vitamins to my child…and they aren’t too expensive at all. You can buy them online at: http://www.pureformulas.com/kirkman.html?CAPCID=5920912136&cadevice=c&gclid=CPGm5JGLmrkCFUVp7AodFkwAmQ&CA_6C15C=904605210
- Mercola (www.mercola.com) – has been a reputable brand that also does not use any questionable ingredient and tests for purity.
- Vitamin D – Sun exposure without sunscreen for 15 minutes a day is the best way to boost Vitamin D levels naturally, but we all know that is not possible in many (or most) places. I religiously supplement with Vitamin D, as I feel it is a HUGE immune booster and promotes healthy bones, teeth, brain development, etc. Ideally, having your child’s blood serum level is best to know where you are starting from, especially since the RDA for supplementation is so low (my son gets between 1,000-2,000 IU a day of liquid vitamin D, which is 4-5 times the RDA….but totally safe, and my son’s blood serum vitamin D levels are perfect). We use Xymogen Labs liquid Vitamin D (Xymogen Labs only distributes through physicians and health care providers, but you can check online to order from Amazon.com). You can also check Kirkman and Mercola or NaturalNews.com for liquid Vitamin D. I prefer liquid form for best absorption. Vitamins D should be taken with fat as well, as it’s a fat-soluble vitamin.
- DHA/Fish Oil – Another top-notch supplement I feel is critical to balancing mood, boosting immune function, and most importantly, brain and eye development. My son was taking Nordic Naturals Baby DHA liquid fish oil from when he was around 6 months old and he still gets it every day. I love Nordic Naturals brand, as they are ultra-pure, but there are other brands you can find in Whole Foods or online at www.brainchildnutritionals.com, naturalnews.com, and mercola.com that are reputable. My concern is mercury content in fish oil, which is why I only trust certain brands. I have many people ask me about Costco brand or brands that you can buy in bulk. I personally used these brands, but it’s just not certain how much mercury can be sneaking by, especially when they are produced in such high quantity and sold at much more affordable prices. There are other products out there like chewable Omega gummies… if from one of the companies I listed above, I am not concerned about the ingredients or if lots of sugar is used. I know Nordic Naturals uses natural strawberry flavoring with the oil we now give my son.
- Probiotics – I have written about the numerous benefits probiotics have to offer the immune and digestive systems. Read more here (and also about the brand I use; another great brand is BioKult). Some people even make their own kefir and supplement with probiotics that way. https://mysuperfoods.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/props-for-probiotics/
- Vitamin C – believe it or not, not every human responds the same way to Vitamin C – meaning that not everyone’s body will take a supplement form and “use it.” However, there is a great product we use from BrainChild Nutritionals called Liqui-C Complete that’s an antioxidant blend of Vitamin C and A in a delicious naturally-flavored orange cream liquid I mix into yogurt. It’s great to supplement here and there (or daily if you choose) for immune-boosting, anti-radical fighting, and skin-protecting properties. This company also has a wide-array of awesome supplements to help with any ailment or support any function of the body:
- Calcium – If your child is not a fan of dairy or does not eat a combo of enough dark, leafy greens, beans, and dairy to meet calcium needs (children should be getting between 600-800 mg of calcium a day), you should be supplementing with calcium, but preferably a calcium/magnesium blend, as magnesium helps with absorption, in addition to muscle and neuron function. Please beware that calcium supplements tend to be the ones most commonly “polluted” with all kinds of fillers and dangerous bi-products. Kirkman makes a great brand of pure calcium to use…and like the multis, I would open a capsule and mix the powder in to some food to disguise it, as hard calcium pills tend to be made with fillers and binders (and are not fun to crush to give to kids).
- Iron – iron is very important to make sure children have enough of, and routine blood tests should be done to test for blood cell count AND ferritin levels (the protein that binds to help blood cells). We supplement with iron in our house, and believe it or not, one of the best ways to boost iron intake is to cook with a cast-iron skillet. Our doctor said he saw a drastic improvement in iron levels when parents cooked out of a cast iron skilled at least once daily. If that’s not helping, an iron supplement is fine, but please note iron in too high quantity can be harmful and is also binding/constipating (especially to children), so I mix mine in with fresh ground flaxseeds to promote healthy bowel movements. From kidshealth.org, here is a list of how much iron your child should be getting:
Kids require different amounts of iron at various ages and stages. Here’s how much they should be getting as they grow:
- Infants who breastfeed tend to get enough iron from their mothers until 4-6 months of age, when iron-fortified cereal is usually introduced (although breastfeeding moms should continue to take prenatal vitamins). Formula-fed infants should receive iron-fortified formula.
- Infants ages 7-12 months need 11 milligrams of iron a day.
- Toddlers need 7 milligrams of iron each day. Kids ages 4-8 years need 10 milligrams while older kids ages 9-13 years need 8 milligrams of iron each day.
- Adolescent boys should be getting 11 milligrams of iron a day and adolescent girls should be getting 15 milligrams. (Adolescence is a time of rapid growth and teen girls need additional iron to replace what they lose monthly when they begin menstruating.)
- Young athletes who regularly engage in intense exercise tend to lose more iron and may require extra iron in their diets.
This is a basic list of things you can be doing to help boost your child’s diet with vitamins and supplements. I completely understand that not every family is in the financial position or convenience position to do so. This is just a list of recommendations and cautions to use when considering supplementing. Please feel free to forward along any questions you may have regarding supplements, etc. Every parent decides on different things that they feel are best for their kids; I just try to help parents and caretakers make educated and informed choices about things that they may not have known about, and I know the world of supplementation can be a scary one to navigate!
Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Health & Nutrition Coaching of Exponential Health and Wellness, LLC: http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us