Tips for Choosing Children’s Supplements

One topic that never fails to elicit lots of conversation (sometimes very passionate conversation) is the question of whether or not children need vitamin supplements. There are nutrition and medical experts on each side of this discussion, and the opinions shared on both sides are well-researched and convincing.

Once a parent has determined to give vitamin supplements to their children, the next question becomes which one? Do you just grab the Flintstones off of the shelf of the chain pharmacy down the street, or do you face the overwhelming number of choices at the local health food store?

Children’s Multivitamins: To supplement or not?

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt
Doctors often advise parents that unless a child is on a restrictive diet or doesn’t eat well-balanced meals, there is no need to offer vitamin supplements. Most health and nutrition experts agree that the best way to deliver vitamins to growing bodies is through a diet rich in foods that have high nutritional value.

On the other hand, many parents observe a child’s picky eating tendencies and become concerned that there is no way that child is getting complete nutrition through the food he is eating. After we watched a documentary called Food Matters, my husband and I concluded that because of the incredible ways our bodies respond to vitamins, all four of us could use a boost in the vitamin department.

I want to make it clear that I am not a health professional; I’m just a parent like you! Each of us have the responsibility to research and decide on what is best for our own unique children and circumstances – especially when it comes to the health and well-being of our children. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide if a vitamin supplement would be best for your child.

Do infants need vitamin supplements?

This is another area of conflicting advice. Breastfeeding mothers are sometimes advised that iron or Vitamin D drops must be given to their new babies. During the first six months of life, a full-term baby who is exclusively breastfed does not need vitamin supplementation. Kellymom.com provides this overview of vitamins and the breastfed baby and includes this statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

No supplements (water, glucose water, formula, and so forth) should be given to breastfeeding newborns unless a medical indication exists… Exclusive breastfeeding is ideal nutrition and sufficient to support optimal growth and development for approximately the first 6 months after birth.

Breastmilk offers perfect nutrition for babies, and babies who are formula-fed receive the right amounts of vitamins and nutrients. Generally, parents have no need to consider vitamin supplementation until past the first year when they may begin to notice a lack of dietary diversity.

What should I look for in a children’s vitamin supplement?

Based on the research I have done, I believe the single-most important aspect of a vitamin supplement is whether or not it is derived from whole food sources.

In her article A Natural Approach to Pregnancy Supplements, Nicole wrote about why vitamins derived from foods are so important. Essentially, the vitamins and minerals found in food sources are the ones most easily digested and used by our bodies. Some research indicates that synthetic vitamins (such as those found in the majority of commercial vitamins) may actually even be harmful to our bodies.

Ideally, we would receive all of our nutrition from whole food sources. This chart from Dr. Sears is a great guide to knowing which foods are good sources of individual vitamins. If children are resistant to vitamin and nutrient foods listed on the chart, then the next best option is a multivitamin derived from foods.

What should I avoid in a children’s multivitamin supplement?

Photo by the Italian voice
Two things to be especially concerned about in children’s vitamins are artificial sweeteners and iron in the form of ferrous sulfate.

Children love sweets, and offering a sweet, gummi-like vitamin to a child is a sure way for it to be received well! Unfortunately, many commercial vitamin companies choose Aspartame or high fructose corn syrup as sweeteners. Even the multivitamins with natural sugars should have one gram of sugar or less per vitamin.

Because of the sweet, gummi form of children’s vitamins, there is the very real possibility that children can get into a bottle of multivitamins and accidentally overdosing. As Dr. Mercola explains in his article on children’s vitamins, an overdose of iron in the form of ferrous sulfate is what causes sickness and even death in children who have taken too many by accident. Carbonyl iron is widely regarded as the safer form of iron.

What multivitamin do you use or recommend?

After doing a lot of research, we decided on Rainbow Light Kids’ One Multivitamins. We were impressed with the fact that it not only contains food-based vitamins, it also has other minerals and amino acid chelates that are most effectively utilized by our bodies. Nordic Naturals and Floradix are two brands that are also popular amongst natural living-minded parents.

I remember the first time I went into a health food store to buy supplements for my children, I turned around and walked out empty-handed. It shouldn’t be so confusing and overwhelming! Thankfully, a little research and asking other trusted parents for opinions and recommendations helped to clarify some things for me. Hopefully, these tips have provided some guidance for you as well!

So, let’s hear it! Do you give vitamin supplements to your children? Why or why not? Do you have a particular brand that you rely on?

About Megan

Megan spends her days with dirt under her nails, paint on her shirt, and laughter in her ears, and she wouldn't have it any other way. She writes about faith, mothering, and natural living at SortaCrunchy. Read her full bio here.

Comments

  1. bili osi says:

    In children should be careful about amounts. They can get easily poisoning. In addition, fruits and raw vegetables, and sun exposure will raise the percentage of absorption of the vitamins
    bili osi´s latest post: Vegetable growing – Grow your food by yourself !!

  2. Thanks for addressing this topic! My little guy just turned 13 months. We are still nursing and so far he is not a picky eater, but it’s great to know what the options are if that should happen. I use Rainbow Lights Prenatals and love them. Glad to know their kids option is just as great : )
    Sarah G´s latest post: Caleb: 13 Months

  3. i don’t beileve in vitamin supplementation for children. just if there is special need that requires some vitamin. for my kids I try to give them many vegetables and fruits, but not too much fruits.
    katie´s latest post: נטורופתיה/לימודי נטורופתיה

  4. Hi there,
    I have been using Melalueca Vitamins for myself and my family for eight years… and love them. They have a oligo compound to them the causes the body to absorb the vitamins and minerals. We are a family of picky eaters and thus I feel the need to use them. I also believe that our fresh food these days lacks the goodness that we used to be able to find in it.

  5. I’ve done enough reading to think fish oil supplementation is a good idea for my kids. Any recommendations, Megan? (The dentist says no gummies!)
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy´s latest post: Your Tool to Unlock the Hidden Web

  6. I’m so glad to read this! We do give our kids vitamins, though I’ll admit we don’t remember every day! But I’ll be switching to healthier vitamins after this bottle is up!

  7. We do use whole food supplements. We’ve chosen to use Standard Process because the company only uses whole food sources and it even focuses on garnering ingredients from organic plants and animals, which is important when there is bovine thyroid in a supplement, for example. Afterall, when we’re consuming whole food supplements it’s important to choose well grown and feed ingredients for those supplements, so that’s always something I take into consideration when buying.

  8. Great article Megan! Thanks for discussing this important topic. I’ve just been thinking of giving my kids a multi-vitamin for the first time and I appreciate the things to look for, and avoid, and the brand recommendations. We do give our kids cod liver oil and think that is an important supplement for them too.
    Emily @ Live Renewed´s latest post: Green Your Weekend – Food and Gardening Edition

  9. I use Nordic Naturals Nordic Berries for my boys. They have 1.5 grams of sugar per gummy but I believe them to be a very good product. No HFCS!
    I also use Relax-a-saurus by dinosuars. Excellent product!! My hyperactive litttles calm down very well and have much better focus with this product. I learned about it from a mom whose son is ADHD. It really makes a huge difference for him. They have 1 gram of sugar but I forgot to check the ingredient list. . .

  10. Just letting you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics specifically DOES recommend vitamin D supplementation for breastfed infants. Here’s a link:
    http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;122/5/1142
    “It is now recommended that all infants and children, including adolescents, have a minimum daily intake of 400 IU of vitamin D beginning soon after birth. ”
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    • thanks for posting this Sarah, i was going to bring up the same thing.

      However, there is some new research that instead of supplementing the infant (which seems a bit counter-intuitive to me), if the breastfeeding mommy gets at least (MINIMUM) 6000IU of Vit D daily, the infant doesn’t need the supplement. This is controversial & the AAP hasn’t picked up on it yet–but I would rather take the vitamin, have it processed through MY body, & passed to my child via breast milk than give it to her.

      the other big issue we run into w/ kiddos is that our foods, by their very nature, are not as rich in vitamins as they used to be (referring to store-bought foods, even fresh produce). a diet that, 50 years ago, might have provided all the vitamins you needed is lacking in the same content of vitamins today. its an issue that only home gardening & the organic/local movement can help. on top of that, most produce from grocery chains are picked too early–depleting their vitamin content as they sit on the shelves.

      the biggest issue, i think, is that our kiddos NEED these vitamins. whether you choose to have your kids supplemented or not isn’t the debate–it is whether or not they’ll get what they need for good immune & neuromusculoskeletal development.
      j.´s latest post: home sweet home. living room.

      • Yes J. if the mother is nursing the baby, there is no need for the baby to receive any Vitamin D, because it passes through the breastmilk. Vitamin D is especially crucial for those living in areas with less sunshine.

        I live in the Pacific Northwest, so I take 5,000 I.U. daily. That’s the typical recommendation for people in these parts, especially important for myself as a pregnant mama.
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  11. Any recommendations on good quality, natural ingredient multi-vitamins for adult men and women?

  12. I give my 4.5 year old a multivitamin, Omega 3 and vitamin D.

    He’s a fabulous eater and will gobble down every last fruit and veggie in the house – raw or cooked. But there are days where he just doesn’t eat well, or refuses to eat everything that’s in front of him – hence my decision to supplement with a good multivitamin. Even when you eat well, there are so many things that can alter how your food is processed in your body. To me, it’s worth the extra layer of protection to know that no matter how good or poor my kiddo eats that day, he’s getting everything his little body needs to grow.

  13. My three year old son is a very picky eater but we are working on that. I love the yummi bears organics. But the sugar is 4g. Any one have any vitamins they like with less sugar?

  14. We love Dr. Fuhrman Pixie-Vites…no artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors. No added preservatives, wheat, gluten, or soy. They look like little mini pixie sticks and it’s a powder so for younger kids that can’t or won’t dump the stick in their mouth you can mix it in to food or drink.
    Krissa´s latest post: Cooking Together…Tostada Pizza

  15. I have tried several kinds including gummies (which were rock hard!) without any success except his acidophilous ones (wakuga i think is the brand). I get mostly all my supplements from iherb for him and me. I did try a green vitamin rec’d by a naturopathic friend but he did not like them and I found them gross too. I’d like to try fermented cod liver oil…well like may be a bit strong, I’m interested in it as it seems to be chock full of good things but the idea is kinda scary.
    Nina´s latest post: gratitude 7.31.11

  16. important information. i learned something new, thanks.
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  17. stephanie gillespie says:

    Great topic! My family uses Juice Plus and LOVES it!! It actually has a nutrition label (rather than a supplement label) which means that the FDA recognizes it as FOOD, not synthetic isolated man-made vitamins. It’s basically 17 fruits & veggies in capsule or chewable form — WHOLE FOOD BASED NUTRITION. And it has been researched and studied by some major medical universities with amazing results. It’s a great way to bridge the gap between what we should be eating and what we actually eat. Check it out at http://www.gillespieslovejuiceplus.com. Taking and sharing Juice Plus is one of the best decisions my family has ever made!

  18. I just had baby #4, and was told to give Vit D drops… I will have to look into it more!

  19. Yes, we supplement. I believe that if I need extra supplements then my son does too, even if he is eating well.
    We also watched Food Matters and this really convinced us that we all need extra help. Thanks so much for this post, I was just thinking that we needed to find my son a better supplement other than the Target brand I was using. I did switch a few months ago away from the gummy ones because I was concerned with the amount of sugar that was in them.

  20. I agree with you. Vitamins that come from whole food sources are probably the best, not only for kids, but for adults as well. They’re the most bio-available, and the least processed. I didn’t know that there were artificial sweeteners in kid’s supplements. That’s scary.
    Ben´s latest post: Greens Gold Review

  21. Good info. Thanks. :) After much research, I trust Shaklee with our supplements. I appreciate their integrity and high standards, quality control and thorough research.

  22. I suffered from iron deficiency before, and I did take a lot of iron in the form of ferrous sulphate. I didn’t know that it’s not that safe. I’m doing better now, and I am currently taking a daily dose of grape seed capsule. It has great benefits and completely organic.
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  23. Wow, this is really helpful. Thanks for the ideas!
    Mark´s latest post: Pasta Completes an Olive Garden Dining Experience

  24. Ah yes! Nutrition is such a touchy topic. We do only whole food supplements here as well. Specifically, Juice Plus. I recently checked out some alternatives (Garden of Life) trying to save money but discovered that the amounts of nutrients in the “cheaper” supplement were so much less that to get the same dosage I would have to take a lot more (think it was 8x more but will have to look back). Basically, Juice Plus is the best value hands down. Though some may consider it a downside that you have to buy from individual distributors, I would much rather support someone I know than Big Pharma. But that’s just personal preference. It’s worth checking into. They also have a children’s study (which just means you take surveys every so often), and if you get your kids on it, you get adult dosage for free! Can’t beat that! We won’t try anything else again. http://www.livelaughlovejuiceplus.com

  25. Wow, great post! very informative! thanks so much! our doctor has tried to convince me to give my one month old baby a vitamin D supplement. I’m so glad I didn’t listen to him :)
    Larissa´s latest post: How to Look Natural MakeUp Tips

  26. Very interesting post. I have two children and I give only one vitamin supplements. My daughter, who is 6, has always eaten a highly varied diet including lots of vegetables and while she likes sweets she seems to be able to take them or leave them. Since I know she’s going to be eating spinach and broccoli a couple of times a week I don’t give her a supplement. My son, on the other hand, who is 3, has a much more typical “kids palate” and wants only starchy carbs and fruit. So, he gets a vitamin.

    I buy Yummi Bears by Hero Nutritionals. They are sweetened with glucose syrup and have 1.3 grams of sugar per vitamin. But they have no iron but contain all the A, C, D, E, the B vitamins, Folic Acid, Calcium, Zinc, Magnesium, and others.

    Whether or not it has any effect, I don’t know, but it’s what we do.
    Elizabeth E.´s latest post: Butter and Honey Sandwich

  27. We usually use Rainbow light kids multis too. If you have a kid with ADHD symptoms, get their ferritin (iron storage) and zinc checked. A zinc deficiency can cause kids to be picky eaters, and iron deficiency can cause poor sleeping (restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea are linked to this). It’s very common to be deficient in these if you have ADHD symptpoms. One study showed that children with ferritin levels under 40 had a lot of problems sleeping, when their levels were raised (a supplement might be enough, but you might need to look into why they’re not absorbing enough-look into getting rid of heavy metals, etc), their symptoms improved.

  28. This is an important topic. However, many of the brands that I see here are not whole food supplements. If your vitamin has cyanocobalamin (the cheapest form of B12 that is poisonous) or ascorbic acid, then your vitamin is not a whole food supplement. There are only a couple of synthetic vitamin raw material suppliers in China that all vitamin manufacturers buy from. Basically, every synthetic vitamin company is selling you the same synthetic garbage. Whole food vitamins should list the food that the vitamin is coming from, not a chemical name. And with real whole food supplements, you do NOT need high doses! There are few companies that fit the bill for real whole food supplements. Here are links to a couple of short articles on the subject and a link to the brand that I use, Megafood.
    http://www.healthiertalk.com/whole-food-vs-synthetic-supplements-0535
    http://www.nutriteam.com/natural.htm
    http://www.megafood.com/

  29. My husband, who was never great at taking his vitamins, says these are the best ever, he actually feels better and with more energy. I take the Women’s version and I love them as well. They are all natural and have extra B vitamins as well as others.
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  31. Our family is a mix of Vegan/Vegatarian. We try to maintain a healthy diet. On the off chance we may lack something, I give my son Greens+ Kids by Genuine Health. My son has been on this for 4 years now. Contains 25 organic/non-irradated veggies, fruit and fiber formula that has no egg/gluten/artificial anything and no yeast.
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    My son loves this stuff and askes for more everytime. I highly recommend researching : )
    Flavour is amazing :p Have a lovely day!

  32. I use a multivitamin supplement from http://blueskyvitamin.com and haven’t found any problems with my kids. I only give them in moderation and found that they seem a lot healthier and happier to the days that they don’t have them. I try to set up healthy meals full of vegatables but they don’t like them so I give mine the additional supplement to help maintain a healthier balance.

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