Considering Vitamin Supplements?
Are your children eating three servings of vegetables a day? Are they getting at least two servings of fruit? If they aren't, they may not be getting the vitamins their growing bodies need.
We've all heard about how important vitamins are for growing children. Although they do not provide energy (vitamins have no calories), they are necessary for every day body functions such as transforming foods into energy. Most nutrition experts agree that the best way to get all the nutrients needed daily is by eating a well-balanced diet, but what's a parent to do with a child who only eats fruit sparingly or simply hates vegetables?
Your pediatrician might suggest adding a multi-vitamin (which combines many nutrients into one pill) or a vitamin supplement (which gives one or two nutrients per dose, like vitamin C with rosehips) to your child's diet. Supplements for infants and children can be prescribed or purchased over the counter, but no two are exactly alike.
"The first thing I would tell people is to be sure to buy from a reputable company that's been in business for a long time," says Dr. Tim Maggs, chiropractor and herbalist who developed a line of natural vitamins for children. "Quality and potency are also important."
Here are a few other things to watch for as you're surfing the supermarket or health food store shelves:
Look for multi-vitamins that provide no more than 100 percent of the US Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for your child's age of the 13 vitamins (vitamin A, B1 or thiamin, B2 or riboflavin, B6, B12, folic acid, niacin, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, biotin and pantothenic acid) considered essential. Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are stored in the body for long periods of time while excesses of water-soluble vitamins are excreted in the urine. As a result, some medical experts, like nutritionist Susan Clark who teaches at Radford University in Virginia, contend that overdosing is possible if excessive amounts of fat-soluble vitamins are taken. "Unless there's clear evidence that a supplement is needed because of a particular increased need [or] deficiency ... I advocate getting adequate nutrition from food. We just can't package nutrients like nature does," Clark says.
Dr. Maggs disagrees. "A lot of the medical authorities tend to plant the seed that nutritional supplementation can be dangerous or hazardous. They then always use the fat-soluble vitamin fear to scare you. [Vitamins] A, D, E and K constitute only about 20 percent of what the body uses. The fear is unrealistic," Dr. Maggs says.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), taking excessive amounts of one particular vitamin can alter the absorption rate, function or metabolism of another. For example, high doses of vitamin E can deplete vitamin A stores while excessive amounts of zinc can interfere with vitamin K and iron absorption. Vitamin supplements also have the potential to interact with prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Check with your health care provider or pharmacist to be sure.
Many generic or store brands are manufactured by the same company as the more famous brands. The more expensive the vitamins are, the more likely it is that you are being charged for packaging and national advertising. Compare labels of several brands to get a more accurate idea of what you're paying for.
Check the expiration dates before you toss a jar of vitamins into your grocery cart. Flintstone's chewables and other supplements lose their potency over time.
Although preservatives and fillers aren't necessary, the FDA says that you may not wish to write off a particular brand simply because of additives, contending that sugar or starch are sometimes added to ensure better absorption of the nutrients. If you are concerned about the colors, sugars and starches added to the supplements your child is taking, know that there are filler-free alternatives available at just about any health food store in the country. Nature's Plus produces "Animal Parade" which use natural, whole food concentrations in their great-tasting yeast-, wheat-, corn-, soy-, milk- and animal product-free chewable multi-vitamins.
Natural and synthetic vitamins are virtually identical to each other chemically. The one exception is vitamin E, whose natural form is more "active" in the body than the synthetic form. This difference has been factored into the measurement (in International Units or IUs) listed on the label, so that 30 IU of natural vitamin E is just as "active" as 30 IU of the synthetic form.
It pays to be as aware in the vitamin aisle as you would be while shopping for produce or dairy. Examine the labels, compare the ingredients, shop around and take your time. A few minutes of careful shopping could save you a great deal of energy and concern later on.