Childhood is a time of constant growth and development. Bones, teeth, skin, muscles, eyes and brains – the organs and body parts that will serve us throughout life – are being perfected. Nutrition plays a big part in proper development; vitamins, minerals and omega-3’s act as the essential building blocks.
Clearly, the best way for children to get the nutrients they need is through a healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables, legumes, lean meats, fish, and dairy products are among the foods that are most densely packed with nutrition for growing children. The vitamins and minerals found in these foods are in a form that our bodies recognize and easily absorb.
The challenge comes in getting children to eat healthy foods every day. Most parents know how picky children can be when it comes to diet. Even the children with the best of eating habits don’t eat right all the time. Processed foods that are high in unhealthy fats and sugars dominate our culture and are designed to appeal to children’s taste buds, not necessarily to supply the nutrients required for optimal growth. Further, many of the foods traditionally high in nutrients, such as rice, have been stripped of many of their most valuable nutritive content through modern processing methods.
This is where additional supplementation of the most important vitamins and minerals can act as nutritional insurance for your children – making sure they get the nutrients they need even on days when they might not eat the way parents had planned. Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Calcium and the family of B complex vitamins are among the most critical for development.
Multivitamins and minerals – A good chewable multivitamin and mineral, with such important nutrients as vitamin C, the B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and vitamin D supports health and acts as daily nutritional insurance. Vitamins and minerals are involved in promoting immune health, maintaining eyesight, forming bones, teeth, tissue and gums and the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Look for a children’s multivitamin and mineral supplement with no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives.
Vitamin C – Supplementing with this well-known vitamin is especially important for children who do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C is important for the development and maintenance of bones, cartilage, teeth and gums in children.
Vitamin C is also important for the formation of connective tissue, accelerating wound healing, enhancing immune health and as a protective antioxidant.
Calcium – This mineral helps in the development and maintenance of bones and teeth especially in childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. Calcium, vitamin D and magnesium work together as a bone-building team. Calcium supplementation is particularly important for children that are allergic to milk.
Vitamin B Complex – The B vitamins are important for the nervous system, tissue formation and for metabolizing carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Children who eat a lot of foods containing refined sugars and starches may be depleting their B vitamins. The B vitamins Folic Acid and B12 help to form red blood cells. The lipotropic nutrient, choline, often grouped with the B vitamins, has been investigated for its effectiveness in helping children overcome neurodevelopmental delays.
Other important nutrients include:
- Vitamin A & Beta Carotene – These related compounds are important in maintaining eyesight, the development of night vision and immune health.
- Magnesium – Magnesium works together with calcium for bone development and also in muscle functioning.
- Chromium – This mineral helps to metabolize fats and carbohydrate, as well as support healthy glucose metabolism.
- Iodine – Helps in the function of the thyroid gland.
- Zinc – Helps to maintain immune function and healthy skin.
Vitamin D – During winter months, additional vitamin D than is found in a typical children’s multivitamin may be required. While all Canadians are at risk for low vitamin D levels, children represent a demographic at particular risk for low vitamin D incidence. A 2009 study in the journal Pediatrics expressed concerning results for vitamin D levels in American children. It found that 7 out of 10 children had insufficient vitamin D levels and almost 10% of children were deficient. The lead researcher of the study stated: “We expected the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency would be high, but the magnitude of the problem nationwide was shocking.”1 Keep in mind that Canadian children live further north and thus are exposed to even fewer hours of sunlight in the winter. During winter months, many health experts recommend 1000 IU a day of vitamin D for all Canadians. Newer studies are looking at the benefits of vitamin D for enhancing children’s immune health.2
As a concerned parent, you’ll want to seek out a purified fish oil supplement that has been cleaned and tested to be safe from contaminants such as heavy metals, which are found in our oceans. The International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS) is an independent organization which posts quality and safety testing results for fish oil supplements on their website for consumers to review: www.ifosprogram.com.
“Alarm Bells Over Vitamin D Levels in Kids”, CBS News. August 3, 2009.
Walker, VP. Modin RL. “The vitamin D connection to pediatric infections and immune function.” Pediatr Res. 2009 May;65(5 Pt 2):106R-113R.
Singh M., “Essential fatty acids, DHA and human brain.” Child Care and Dental Health Center, Arun Vihar, Noida, UP, India. firstname.lastname@example.org. Indian J Pediatr. 2005 Mar;72(3):239-42.