Ask the Nutritionist By Lauren Sharifi, RD, LDN Q: Is it a good idea to give children daily vitamins or probiotics? How do you know if your child needs these supplements? Which ones are best?
A: It's important that our children get the appropriate vitamins for proper growth and development. In most cases, children are able to get the vitamins their bodies need by consuming a variety of foods in each food group. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products and animal and vegetable proteins are examples of vitamin-rich foods. Offering a balance of these foods in your child's diet will help to ensure that they are getting the nutrients their body needs.
But in some cases, children either choose or are unable to eat a variety of foods and may be lacking in certain vitamins. Here are some examples of when a multivitamin might be needed:
-Refusing to eat foods in a specific food group
-Unable to eat certain foods in a food group due to allergies or cultural reasons
-Eating a very small amount or limited variety within a food group or groups
For any of these reasons, a multivitamin supplement would be appropriate. As a reminder, multivitamins are supplementing your child's diet. They are not a replacement for foods themselves. It's still important to continue to offer food your child may be choosing not to eat or find alternatives to foods they may be unable to eat.
So, what are the best multivitamins out there? The answer is what works best for your child. Start by trying chewable vitamins with no artificial dyes or added sugar. There are also some that come in liquid form and powdered form, which you could add to beverages, smoothies or other foods like yogurt or oatmeal. The trick is to get them to consume everything that is provided, which can be difficult especially if they are already picky eaters. If none of these work, a gummy vitamin is often well tolerated. For more specific recommendations, reach out to a pediatric dietitian. Not only can he or she assess if your child needs supplementation and what vitamin supplement would be appropriate, they can also help you find an approach that works to get your child to eat a balance of nutrients to support their development.
Unlike vitamins, probiotics are not essential for your child's growth and development. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts found naturally in the body and in certain foods. They help facilitate digestion and absorption of nutrients and optimize our body's immune system. The research in the area of probiotic supplementation in children and adults is still preliminary and long-term effects of probiotic use in children are uncertain. Therefore, my recommendation is to find ways to incorporate probiotic-rich foods into your child's diet. Some food sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut or other fermented vegetable, tempeh, kimchi and miso. Not only are kids getting a dose of potentially helpful probiotics, but these foods are also providing other nutrients their bodies need for growth and development.
Lauren Sharifi is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and food blogger at biteofhealthnutrition.com. Lauren works in private practice in Brighton at ASF-Peak Health (asfpeakhealth.com) and is passionate about helping individuals and families become competent eaters that find joy out of eating. Have a question for Lauren? Email us!