The best multivitamins for kids is a hot topic. Companies are constantly trying to sell them to you and convince you that your child needs them. But what should be in them? Which ones should you choose? Does your child even need them? Many parents have been told that all kids should be taking a multivitamin, but is this true?
Multivitamins as an insurance policy
Many people, doctors included, are recommending multivitamins for kids as an insurance policy. A way to make parents feel better about their child not eating that much, if you will. But there are several issues with this.
Supplements are poorly regulated
The US has a very lax system when it comes to supplements, even those for kids. Supplement companies are essentially allowed to police themselves, which leads to things like concentrations of vitamins and minerals being drastically different from what is reported on packaging. Meaning there might be several times the recommended amount of a substance in one bottle, and almost none of something in another.
There’s little to no clinical evidence for multivitamin use
Multivitamins for kids are one of the most used types of supplements out there, yet there is no real research showing that they are effective. Part of this results from not having one standard formulation for what a multivitamin refers to. Some companies add large amounts of things like vitamin C or B vitamins, others have iron, vitamin A, or any other number of vitamins and minerals. Without being able to compare the formulations, it is impossible to make a recommendation that is research based encouraging parents to use a multivitamin. There’s just nothing to say that any of them are effective!
The risks of multivitamins for kids
Not only is there no evidence truly supporting their use, there is some evidence that points to potential issues with multivitamin use, especially in young children. In one study, early use of multivitamins in children was associated with an increased risk of asthma and food allergies in some populations. In another study, no effect was found from multivitamins on the nutrients that children actually needed the most help with obtaining. Part of this is likely because multivitamins have several different nutrients in them, and are not targeted at any that a specific child might be lacking in their own diet.
What you should give your child instead of a multivitamin
First and foremost, food is the best thing that can help your child. Offering a balanced diet full of various nutrients is hands down the best thing you can do for your child. For help with what foods to serve that are full of the nutrients kids need, grab the Grow Baby Grow ebook.
But what do you do if your child doesn’t eat the food you serve? Remember above all that most kids don’t need as much as we think they do. How much and what they eat tends to balance out over a week or even a month's time. They don’t need to be getting all nutrients every single day to be healthy.
Give supplements individually, not as multivitamins
There are some nutrients that certain kids aren’t getting enough of, absolutely. And in that case, those nutrients should be given individually. Does your child not eat a lot of dairy or other high-calcium foods? That might be the time to consider a calcium supplement. Are they not drinking a vitamin D fortified beverage like cow’s milk or another appropriate plant-based milk? Are they exclusively breastfed? That might be the time to consider a vitamin D supplement. Are they vegan or severely restricting intake with only a handful of foods in their diet? Again, might be time to consider a supplement.
Giving a multivitamin with various vitamins and minerals that aren’t actually targeted at what your child needs based on what is lacking in their intake is like shooting in the dark, though. You’re unlikely to actually see good results! Instead, work with someone like a dietitian to analyze your child’s diet, and help you find targeted supplements that might help, and that are tested to show that they are safe and effective.
The bottom line on multivitamins for kids
At the end of the day, supplements will never be as beneficial as actual food. There are just too many compounds and interactions in foods that help the body to get the nutrients that it needs. And no matter how good our technology is, we are nowhere close to replicating those complex factors that help with vitamin and mineral absorption.
As long as we as parents are offering a balanced diet with nutritious foods, most healthy kids will get everything that they need.
But if you have a child with a severely restricted diet, do yourself and your child a huge favor by seeking out someone who can help you figure out exactly what might be missing, and how you might truly help your child supplement in order to get what they need. Don’t just rely on a shot in the dark “insurance policy” that is a multivitamin.