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Vitamins for Kids: Do Healthy Kids Need Supplements?

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If you believe the ads, every kid needs a daily Flintstone or Gummy Bear vitamin. But is it true?

Not necessarily so, the experts agree. Ideally, kids should get their vitamins from a balanced, healthy diet that includes:

  • Milk and dairy products like cheese and yogurt (preferably low-fat products for kids over age 3)
  • Plenty of fresh fruits and leafy, green vegetables
  • Protein like chicken, fish, meat, and eggs
  • Whole grains like steel-cut oats and brown rice

 

Which Kids Need Vitamin Supplements?

Given the reality of time-crunched parents, those well-rounded, home-cooked meals aren't always possible. That's why pediatricians may recommend a daily multivitamin or mineral supplement for:

  • Kids who aren't eating regular, well-balanced meals made from fresh, whole foods
  • Finicky eaters who simply aren't eating enough
  • Kids with chronic medical conditions such as asthma or digestive problems, especially if they're taking medications (be sure to talk with your child's doctor first before starting a supplement if your child is on medication)
  • Particularly active kids who play physically demanding sports
  • Kids eating a lot of fast foods, convenience foods, and processed foods
  • Kids on a vegetarian diet (they may need an iron supplement), a dairy-free diet (they may need a calcium supplement), or other restricted diet
  • Kids who drink a lot of carbonated sodas, which can leach vitamins and minerals from their bodies

Top Six Vitamins and Minerals for Kids

In the alphabet soup of vitamins and minerals, a few stand out as critical for growing kids.

  • Vitamin A promotes normal growth and development; tissue and bone repair; and healthy skin, eyes, and immune responses. Good sources include milk, cheese, eggs, and yellow-to-orange vegetables like carrots, yams, and squash.
  • Vitamin Bs. The family of B vitamins -- B2, B3, B6, and B12 -- aid metabolism, energy production, and healthy circulatory and nervous systems. Good sources include meat, chicken, fish, nuts, eggs, milk, cheese, beans, and soybeans.
  • Vitamin C promotes healthy muscles, connective tissue, and skin. Good sources include citrus fruit, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes, and green vegetables like broccoli.
  • Vitamin D promotes bone and tooth formation and helps the body absorb calcium. Good sources include milk and other dairy products, and fish oil. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight.
  • Calcium helps build strong bones as a child grows. Good sources include milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu, and calcium-fortified orange juice.
  • Iron builds muscle and is essential to healthy red blood cells. Iron deficiency is a risk in adolescence, especially for girls once they begin to menstruate. Good sources include beef and other red meats, turkey, pork, spinach, beans, and prunes.

Megavitamins -- large doses of vitamins -- aren't a good idea for children. The fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K) can be toxic if kids overdose on excessive amounts. Ditto with iron. Your kids can get too much of a good thing.

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