We all know that vitamins and minerals are vital to the body and that we must consume enough of these to meet our requirements, but should you give your children multivitamins or minerals? There is a lot of publicity around supplements and sometimes you can feel that you have to give your child vitamin and mineral supplements. Let’s look at why you need these first before we decide if you should be giving your children them or not.
Why do we need vitamins?
The body needs different vitamins for different purposes. The vitamins and main minerals include the following;
Vitamin A: Plays a role in immune function, reproduction, eyesight and healthy skin and teeth. Vitamin A is found in dairy products, eggs, vegetables and oily fish.
B vitamins: Plays a role in how the body utilises energy and nutrients from food. The B vitamins include; B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine) and B12 (cyanocobalamin). The B vitamins are found in a variety of foods including grains, dairy products, fortified cereals, nuts, legumes and meats.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is well known for its role in immune function. It also has a role in helping assist the absorption of iron and copper, healthy bones, collagen formation, protection against oxidative damage, and in the regeneration of other vitamins. Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin D: This vitamin plays a role in calcium and phosphorus absorption and regulating levels of calcium in the blood. It is also important for healthy skin, muscle strength and immune function. The body is able to produce vitamin D from sunlight on the skin but it is also found in oily fish, fortified margarine, and eggs.
Vitamin E: This is a potent antioxidant and is essential for a healthy heart and skin, as well the nervous system. Vitamin E is found in meat fat, wheat germ, nuts, oils and margarines, and spinach.
Vitamin K: Vitamin K is needed in the body for normal blood clotting. Vitamin K is found in green vegetables, soybean oil, canola oil and margarines.
Some vitamins are water soluble whereas others are fat soluble. Water soluble vitamins (vitamin C and B vitamins) are not stored in large amounts in the body, if you consume more than you need, you simply excrete the rest in urine. Fat soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D, E and K) on the other hand are stored in the body so can build up. This is important as there is no benefit to having large amounts of water soluble vitamins if you simply excrete them. They simply make expensive urine if you do not need them. As fat soluble vitamins can build up over time, this can also make overconsumption dangerous.
Calcium and iron are two minerals that are very important for children. Calcium is vital for the body to make strong bones and teeth. It is stored in the body and as a child moves through childhood and adolescence to their early 20’s helps to maximise their peak bone mass (the amount of bone matter in the bone which determines strength). As you age you lose calcium from the skeleton and the bones start to lose strength. If a child consumes enough calcium in younger years they may help to delay this ageing process as they have a higher peak bone mass. Sources of calcium for your child include milk and dairy products, sardines and salmon (with soft bones), baked beans and tofu. Iron plays a role in oxygen transport around the body. Oxygen is needed for each cell to function and a lack of iron can lead to fatigue, breathlessness, reduced immunity and poor learning and concentration. Although iron is vitally important for health, and you may suspect that your child is low in this mineral, they should always be checked first for deficiency as some individuals have a condition where iron can build up in the body to extremely high and dangerous levels. Sources of iron in your child’s diet include; meat, poultry, fish and seafood, as well as eggs, grains, fruits and vegetables. The type of iron found in meat products is easier for the body to absorb, whereas the iron in plant sources is more difficult for the body to absorb.
So should your children take vitamins or not?
If you suspect that your child is deficient in a particular vitamin as they exhibit symptoms of deficiency or they may not eat a number of foods, you should check with a registered dietitian or registered nutritionist first. Your child should be checked first before vitamins are given as large doses are not always healthy. Most children should be able to get all of the vitamins and minerals that they need from normal foods. Overconsumption may lead to serious health problems.