Most children who take vitamin and mineral supplements do not need them, according to a recent, large American study. Healthy children who eat a varied diet and spend a little time in the sun each day will get all the vitamins and minerals they need.
A supplement is not a substitute for a balanced diet. Whole foods are the best source of vitamins and minerals (e.g. iron and calcium) and also provide a range of other nutrients such as anti-oxidants and fibre.
Give your child a wide variety of healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, dairy foods, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans and eggs.
Who needs a supplement?
Children who may benefit include:
· Vegetarians. Some vegetarian diets miss out on important nutrients, especially calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin B12.
· Fussy eaters. An unbalanced diet may be lacking in essential nutrients.
· Children on a restricted or ‘elimination’ diet for food allergy or intolerance.
· Children with certain medical conditions e.g. eating disorders, cystic fibrosis, coeliac disease, liver disease, epilepsy.
The risks of supplements
While vitamins and minerals are essential for good health, too much can be harmful. For example, in high doses, vitamin C can cause kidney stones, vitamin B6 can damage nerves and vitamin D can stunt growth.
Large doses of some supplements can cause nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Megadose vitamin treatment (very high doses) is particularly dangerous.
A child formulation of a general multivitamin or mineral supplement is preferred in most cases. Speak to your GP if you think your child may need a supplement.