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Supplements for Children: Do they make a difference?

Let’s face it. – A healthy diet will have to include generous helpings of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. A child’s diet is no exception and not many parents can claim to be able to offer a healthy daily diet to their little ones. Even in households that boast pantries and kitchens with whole foods and nutritious cooking practices, chance are the little kids in the family are not fans of these healthy food.

Should health/nutritional supplements substitute a nutritious daily diet for a child?

Definitely not! However, a combination of high quality supplements, especially those that are likely to be lacking in a child’s daily diet, together with thoughtfully prepared meals containing whole foods may well be the best compromise most parents can expect, one that is likely to prevent nutrient deficiencies which may in turn bring about worrisome sicknesses.

Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are needed for proper development, particularly of the brain and nervous system. They also contribute to the health of the heart and skin. A diet that includes nuts and fish should provide ample EFAs. Most young children’s diets however, are found to be considerably lacking of these foods, hence a high-quality fish oil supplement comes recommended.

Fish oil supplements should be free from contaminants, particularly mercury. These contaminants, which pollute our oceans and are consumed by fish, can be removed from the oil during the manufacture of a supplement. It’s hard to know which products have had these removed, but companies with high purity standards do often include this information in their advertisement.

Multivitamins for children

Since it is NOT the case in most if not all modern households to serving healthy, wholesome meals every day, it will therefore be most beneficial to include multivitamins into a child’s life. A high-quality multivitamin will provide at least the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of key nutrients. They should however, contain no unnecessary additives, and should meet its label claims for nutrient content. Several good children’s multivitamins are available, some even in convenient forms with palatable flavours.

Does your child need an iron supplement?

Although it is less common nowadays, what with breakfast cereals and breads being fortified with iron, but if there are still nutritional deficiencies found in children, iron is definitely right up there with calcium and some essential vitamins.

Children who eat nutritionally inadequate diets may be at risk of iron deficiency, which can cause anemia and impair brain function and intellectual performance. Such children require dietary intervention and/or supplemental iron.

Some children’s multivitamins contain iron; some do not. Be sure to check the label to see how much iron is in the multivitamin. Do not give your child iron if he or she does not need it as too much of this mineral can be detrimental to a child’s health. Consult your pediatrician to determine if your child needs iron.

Vitamin B12 supplement

Vitamin B12 deficiency is not to be taken lightly as it can cause serious, irreversible nerve damage and anemia. The RDA for children ages 1 to 3 is 0.9 mcg per day; for children ages 4 to 8, the RDA is 1.2 mcg per day. Reliable amounts of vitamin B12 can be obtained from foods of animal origin like fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products.

Many children however, especially picky eaters, might not be consuming appropriate amounts of these foods, especially on a daily basis, to be obtaining the Vitamin b12 they need. Most children’s vitamins contain sufficient vitamin B12 to fill in the gap for this dietary requirement.

Calcium and your growing child

Calcium is important for a growing child to reach peak bone mass, which in turn will decrease their later risk for developing painful and life-threatening osteoporosis.

Any dietary source of calcium will count toward the child’s daily intake, but low-fat milk is clearly the most efficient and readily available. Lactose-free milk, soy and rice drinks have recently become more easily obtainable and less expensive. Other foods sources rich in calcium include leafy green vegetables, fish, fruits, beans and peas.

Needless to say, these are not food that children would love to consume every day. Many children’s vitamins include calcium, but it may or may not be enough for your child’s needs. Hence, calcium supplements may be necessary. Consult your family physician for advice.

Vitamin D supplement

Vitamin D is needed in the body to allow for calcium absorption. Fortunately for us in Malaysia, milk is fortified with Vitamin D, and so are some types of cereal and bread. This vitamin occurs naturally in only a few foods, such as fatty fish (salmon, sardines) and egg yolks. Vitamin D is also produced in the skin after exposure to sunlight.

Kids who are picky eaters and those who get little exposure to sunlight, mainly due to modern, closed-up living conditions, may be at risk of developing a deficiency of vitamin D, which is needed for proper bone formation and also to prevent rickets. It is important to note that children over six months of age need 400 IU of vitamin D per day to prevent deficiencies.

At the end of the day, it is important to instill good eating habits among young children Encouraging small kids to eat a rainbow of foods ( as in many colors of fruits and vegetables) as much as possible would go a long way in helping them obtain maximum physical and mental health, the natural and wholesome way. However, due to modern living conditions and busy lifestyles of parents these days, it would be a good idea to supplement a growing child’s diet with a trusted dietary supplement to ensure sufficient amounts of essential nutrients and prevent deficiencies.

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