Nutrition’s Little Helper

Should you give your children vitamin supplements or not?
By Tori Hoffmann

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There’s a reason why there are so many vitamin supplements on the shelves today, for parents and children. It’s not just because popping a pill has become a marketing ploy and a quick fix for a poor diet and a busy lifestyle. It’s because picky eaters, over-processed food and trying to pack too much into an often stressful day has left the majority of us needing a supplement in one form or another.
What’s lacking and why?
According to Michelle B Lewis, a Cape-Town based nutrition and natural health coach, “We all need some sort of assistance when it comes to our diet, largely because of the stresses of environmental pollutants and the fact that a lot of the foods we eat today are processed and over-processed. The western diet also includes artificial additives and we lose a lot of nutrients along the way.” She explains that proper eating and correct food combinations are very important and good nutritional development starts in the womb. We all need a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and the forgotten nutrient, water. Of course, eating healthily isn’t always possible, Michelle admits, especially when it comes to picky eaters, and this is where vitamin supplements serve a purpose.
Do we need a supplement?
Opinion on whether or not you or your child needs to take a vitamin supplement is divided. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that it’s up to you and your family doctor to decide what you need to take and why. Some doctors don’t believe in vitamin supplements and some, like Cape Town-based paediatrician Dr Lara Smith, don’t advocate multivitamins unless there’s a specific medical concern, such as an iron deficiency or the need to supplement a child’s dairy-free diet with calcium. She adds that there is now also a recommendation to give vitamin D supplements to exclusively breast-fed babies. “I don’t dissuade parents from giving supplements if they want to, as I’m not aware of any compelling evidence against giving them to (otherwise) healthy children, but I don’t routinely prescribe vitamins unless indicated. Each case needs to be assessed individually,” she explains. Michelle says that while we don’t have to take supplements, she believes that we do need to help our bodies as much as possible. However, she emphasises that a supplement should never be used to replace a meal.
What you need and when
  • Toddlers and children who are picky eaters or going through a phase of unbalanced eating will benefit from a supplement for that period, says Dr Smith. Also, families that consume vegetarian diets that completely exclude dairy products, for example vegans who exclude all animal products and their by-products, would need a supplement too.
  • Growing children often need a supplement for general health and development. If your child has been sick or has a low immune system, then a vitamin C and zinc supplement may be helpful. While the sun is the best source of vitamin D, children who don’t get enough sunshine might also benefit from a vitamin D supplement. “Natural sunlight is the best form of Vitamin D (before 10am and after 3pm),” says Michelle.
  • Older children and teenagers are said to need cold-pressed oils such as omega and essential fatty acids. This is especially true for sporty children and those who are busy with exams. Not only are the omegas believed to help with bone and brain development, they help with peak endurance and concentration too. They’re also thought to assist with hyperactivity. When your daughter starts menstruating, you might consider an iron supplement or evening primrose oil to combat premenstrual tension.
  • Parents who find themselves feeling rundown would need a vitamin supplement and taking one should be part of their daily routine. “They help combat stress and a vitamin B complex is very important for women,” says Michelle.

Tip: Parents wanting to give their children vitamin and mineral supplements should make sure that it contains no more than the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) of the vitamins and minerals for the ages of their children. RDAs are set high enough to more than meet the needs of most individuals in that category. 


Marie Sturgeon wrote 5 years 32 weeks ago

Ek gee vir my seuntjie creche guard en zinplex. Is dit voldoende?

admin wrote 5 years 32 weeks ago

Hi Marie. These are multivitamins so they should be sufficient; however, always consult with your paediatrician if you are ever in doubt.

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