Is Your Child Getting Enough?

We look at which essential vitamins and minerals your children need as they grow
By Tamlyn Vincent

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We all want what is best for our children, and we want to make sure that their nutritional needs are met. But with so many supplements and multivitamins out there, it can be difficult knowing where to start.
Most babies will receive all of the nutritional supplements that they need from the breast or formula milk that they drink, says Cape Town-based nutritional therapist Megan Perry. However, some babies may need additional supplements, especially if they were born premature. According to Natasha Martins, a paediatric dietician in Durban, “a vitamin D deficiency may occur in breast-fed infants if the mother’s diet is low in this vitamin.” Formula-fed babies should not need additional vitamin D, unless they are drinking less formula than required every day. Formula-fed babies should also get enough iron from their diet, if they are drinking the recommended amount. But the amount of iron that breast-fed babies receive from breast milk, after six months of age, is not sufficient to meet the infant’s requirements, says Martins. Infants can get additional iron through their diet or through supplementation. However, Perry warns that calcium and tea slow the absorption of iron, so these supplements should not be taken with their milk or with tea.
While breast-feeding is best for babies, some moms may want the option of feeding with formula. Again, there are so many types of formula available, that it may be difficult choosing the right one to meet all of your baby’s nutritional needs. If your baby has a medical condition, such as lactose intolerance, your doctor should advise which formula you should use. Otherwise, Martins suggests firstly following the age indication on the formula, and secondly “looking for the added benefits”. DHA/ARA (docosahexaenoic acid/arachidonic acid) have anti-inflammatory properties, while probiotics aid stomach health. “Omega-3 and -6 are also important,” adds Perry, who suggests that you consider an organic formula.
Children grow rapidly at this age and therefore need a range of vitamins and minerals to help with the development of their bones, the immune system and the brain, among other things. Children should be able to get most of these supplements from their diet, but they can also get an age-appropriate multivitamin. Martins points out that toddlers often need additional vitamin A and D supplementation, as these requirements are usually not met through diet alone. Toddlers may also need vitamin C and B6, iron, calcium and magnesium, adds Perry, as well as omega-3 and zinc.
Preschoolers and early graders
If children are eating a varied, balanced diet they shouldn’t need vitamin or mineral supplementation, says Martins. However, fussy eaters or those not getting all of their vitamin requirements through their diet may need supplements. “It is important to be following a balanced diet according to a child’s age-appropriate food pyramid,” says Perry. Children should get sufficient omega-3 fatty acids from their diet, advises Martins. A vitamin C supplement can also be taken.
Again, children at this age should be receiving most of their nutritional needs from a balanced diet. If they have a limited diet though, they can take a multivitamin. Perry suggests that children take an age-appropriate multivitamin that contains “valuable vitamins and minerals including zinc, magnesium, iron, B-vitamins, folate and vitamin C”. Pre-teens should also take a separate omega-3 supplement, says Perry.
“The teenage years are a time of increased vitamin and mineral requirements,” says Perry, but it is also a time when teenagers may develop poor eating habits. Because of this, Perry recommends that teenagers take a good multivitamin that contains vitamin B complex, vitamin C, vitamin E, calcium, iodine, iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc.
Teenage girls will also need more iron than boys, especially when they begin to menstruate. Perry adds that girls may want to take a supplement that helps ensure healthy looking skin, while boys may look for vitamins that help build their muscles.
Evening primrose oil is a good source of the important omega-6 fatty acid, which helps to regulate heart function and balance hormones. This can help with mood swings and pre-menstrual syndrome. It can also be used as a cream to promote a healthy skin.
General tips
  • Multivitamins are intended as a supplement, and not as a replacement to a healthy balanced diet.
  • Vitamins and minerals come in different forms: they are easiest to absorb in their food state, and you can ensure a vitamin- and mineral-rich diet by eating a variety of whole, unprocessed foods as well as plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • If your child is a fussy eater, or is not eating a balanced diet for any reason, then speak to your healthcare practitioner before giving additional supplements to your child, either in pill or liquid form.
  • Multivitamins should be age-appropriate as children’s needs change as they grow. However, most teenagers can take an adult multivitamin.
  • Avoid multivitamins that are high in sugar or colourants, especially for younger children. 
Vitamins and minerals
Vitamin A is good for normal growth and development, bone growth and
tissue repair. It also boosts the immune system and promotes good vision and healthy skin.
Vitamin B complex converts food to energy, develops red blood cells and fights infection. It is good for muscles, nerves, a strong heart and healthy skin and hair.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant and helps absorb iron, grow bones and teeth, and promote healthy ligaments.
Vitamin D builds strong bones and teeth, and helps absorb calcium and other minerals.
Vitamin E protects cells and tissue, which helps to build healthy muscles and red blood cells.
Vitamin K helps clot the blood.
Calcium promotes the growth of bones, teeth and muscle, and improves nerve function, blood clotting and cell structure.
Iodine regulates metabolism and growth.
Iron helps build muscle and red blood cells.
Magnesium helps regulate the body by contracting and relaxing muscles and nerves, and binds calcium to teeth and bones.
Omega-3 and -6 promote heart, brain and eye development and improve concentration and attention.
Selenium is an antioxidant and improves thyroid function.

Zinc promotes growth, and helps hormones and enzymes work properly.

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