As parents, we want our children to get all the nutrients they need to grow, develop, and thrive the very best they can. Kids who follow a diet that is chock full of nutrient-rich foods is the optimal way to work toward that goal. However, in today’s hectic society and with finicky kids, these desires seem out of reach at times. That’s when we moms, dads and caretakers can turn to a variety of supplements our kids should be taking to fill in for the nutrients they may be missing.
Kids may need to take supplements for a variety of reasons. For example, supplements are likely necessary for children who:
- Don’t eat well-balanced meals that include fresh, whole foods, on a regular basis (pretty much all of us with picky eaters!).
- Consume mostly processed, refined, fast, and/or convenience foods (do you have teenagers at home? I do and it's a constant battle to get them to eat healthy meals).
- Are finicky eaters, who often don’t consume enough calories or nutrients.
- Drink a lot of carbonated and/or soda, which can cause vitamins and minerals to leave the body.
- Have chronic medical conditions such as asthma, food intolerances or allergies, and digestive problems, especially when kids are also taking prescription medications.
- Follow a special diet, such as lactose free (may need calcium), gluten free (may need fiber), vegetarian or vegan (may need iron).
7 Supplements for Your Children
Which supplements should your children be taking? Here are six of the top ones to consider.
When is the best time to begin building strong bones and teeth? At birth! Infants typically get their calcium from breast milk and/or formula and then fortified baby foods. But toddlers and older children can easily fall short of their recommended daily intake (1,000 mg ages 4 to 8 years; 1,300 mg for ages 9 to 17) unless they are consuming cheese, low-fat yogurt, seeds, some leafy greens, sardines, and fortified organic soy foods, cereals, and/or orange juice.
Consider supplementing with 200 mg of calcium daily along with vitamin D and magnesium daily to aid absorption (see Vitamin D and Magnesium below).
The best source of vitamin D is sunlight, because the body produces this hormone once the rays hit unprotected skin. However, many children (and adults) don’t get enough exposure to the sun, which means a large percentage of people are low in this vitamin. That’s worrisome, because this vitamin is necessary for healthy bones, optimal immune function, a healthy nervous system, and many other advantages. Few foods are good sources of vitamin D, so supplementation is often necessary. The recommendation for kids is 400 IU daily, but it’s best to have your doctor check vitamin D levels with a blood test to determine whether a higher dose is needed. [Editor's Note: Our partner, MadeGood has delicious granola snacks, crispy squares, and soft-baked cookies that contain a whole serving of hidden vegetables. The vegetable blend includes shiitake mushrooms which are a source of vitamin D. A win-win for even the pickiest of eaters.]
Many of the foods that are richest in magnesium are not those kids usually heap on their plate-dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. That’s one reason it’s difficult to get enough of this important mineral into children. Because magnesium is essential for more than 300 biochemical processes and-along with calcium and vitamin D-for strong bones and teeth, optimal muscle health and nerve function, you may need to provide your child with a supplement consisting of up to 100 mg of the mineral in both the morning and evening. [Editor's Note: One of our favorite magnesium supplements is from Natural Vitality. Their Natural Vitality Calm comes in a Kid Specific formula that includes L-theanine which can help with focus, so perfect for kids who need a little natural help focusing in school. Visit NaturalVitality.com to learn more.]
Omega-3 fatty acids
Most kids are not chowing down three or more servings of fatty fish every week, so they likely need an omega-3 fatty acid supplement in the form of EPA and DHA (as fish oil or an algae-sourced product). These important nutrients are necessary for the development and optimal function of the brain and eyes and also play a role in reducing the risk of ADHD, depression, aggression, allergies, and asthma in children. The suggested daily dose for children older than 4 years is 250 mg of DHA and 180 mg of EPA. Once kids reach their teen years, these amounts double. Thankfully my kids love taking their fish oil which is great because it tastes so good. [Editor's Note: If your kids can't swallow capsules, Barlean's makes the most delicious Omega Swirls for kids. They taste like desert and come in a variety of flavors for adults, too.]
Toddlers and young children are exposed to countless numbers of bacteria and viruses that can compromise their immune system and leave them with ear infections, stomach aches, colds, flu, constipation, and diarrhea. Doctors will frequently prescribe antibiotics, which can help them recover, but can further weaken their defenses. Beneficial bacteria in the form of probiotic supplements can come to the rescue and help support their immune system, especially when antibiotics are used. A suggested dose is 10 billion CFUs or greater per day, as needed. [Editor's Notes: We vet all the products we recommend against a strict set of criteria. When it comes to probiotics we recommend one that is backed by research and has guaranteed efficacy and that is Bio-K+. Visit Bio-K+ to learn more.]
Did you know that if your child is a picky eater and craves sweets, he or she may be deficient in zinc? That’s because this mineral is critical for healthy senses of smell and taste. It also plays a critical role in supporting a healthy immune system and sexual development during puberty. Among the richest sources of zinc are beans, seeds, nuts, oysters, chicken, and soy (organic). As a supplement, recommended dosages are 2 to 4 mg of a chelated zinc product, such as zinc gluconate. You can do a simple test at home to see if you are zinc deficient. Simply buy a liquid zinc supplement. Take a teaspoon full. If your are deficient in zinc, the liquid will taste like water, while if you have adequate levels it will taste bitter or metallic.
If you have an athlete in the family collagen can help repair muscles and speed up recovery time if they get injured and build strong ligaments and joints. A great food source of collagen is bone broth but if you don't have the time to make it, supplements can fill the gap. [Editor's Note: NeoCell makes a flavorless powder that can be added to anything.]
Parents, be sure to discuss any supplementation plans with your child’s healthcare provider to ensure a good balance of nutrition.
National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements