Anyone who spends any amount of time watching the kids’ channels cannot fail to miss the not-so-subtle message flung out by advertisers that your children, ideally, should be full of a plethora of vitamin pills at all times. The reality, of course, is somewhat different. Prominent doctors have pointed out that, assuming you eat a relatively healthy diet, many vitamin supplements are uselessly excreted, meaning that pill-poppers are “wasting their time” . Furthermore taking too many vitamins may even be harmful. While many assume that overdoing it a bit on the vitamins may not do much good, but it can’t do any harm, the New York Times point out that, in fact, “scientists have known for years that large quantities of supplemental vitamins can be quite harmful indeed” . Essentially, there is absolutely no substitute for a healthy diet. Having said this, however, there are certain vitamin and nutrient supplements which could do your child some good – particularly if they are a fussy eater. Here is a quick guide to the only supplements your child MAY need.
Vitamin D deficiency is becoming something of a chronic condition in the USA – which is surprising, as it’s one of the easiest vitamins to come by. A 2009 survey revealed that three quarters of Americans may have a Vitamin D deficiency  – shocking news, when one considers that Vitamin D doesn’t even have to be eaten. One absorbs it through the skin, in the form of sunlight. Vitamin D is essential for building strong bones, which makes this vitamin extra-relevant for growing children. It also helps with mood regulation and hormone control. Vitamin D is found not only in sunlight, but also in some oily fish, and eggs. However, if it’s the bleak midwinter, and you’re all out of salmon, giving your child a Vitamin D pill a couple of times a week should do the trick.
Vitamin A is a particularly relevant vitamin for babies and young children, as it aids the immune system and helps to strengthen developing vision. The World Health Organization points out that “infants and children have increased vitamin A requirements to support rapid growth and to help them combat infections” . With this in mind, they recommend that Vitamin A supplementation should occur if your child does not or cannot eat carrots, swedes, sweet potatoes, dairy products, or other Vitamin A-rich foods. Be careful, though – too much Vitamin A can be toxic, and pregnant women should avoid eating it. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you begin supplementing.
Vitamin C is an absolute essential – but if your child is getting so little fruit and veg in their diet that they require a Vitamin C supplement, you should probably look long and hard at your cooking habits and their eating habits. Vitamin C rocketed into popularity when Linus Pauling recommended excessive Vitamin C intake to fend off colds. As Pauling – described by the Nobel Institute as the winner of “two undivided Nobel Prizes”  – was (and rightly remains) a vastly respected figure, people took his statements on Vitamin C to heart. However, we now know that Vitamin C is not stored in the body – any excess you take in during the day is excreted that same day. This means that taking a supplement when you don’t really need it is almost literally a case of flushing your money down the toilet! Pauling was, however, right in saying that Vitamin C is good for your immune system. It also has a multitude of functions which help to maintain general health. It’s found in abundance in most fruits, but good sources include kiwi fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, and oranges.
Omega 3 fatty acids are generally only found in oily fish and a limited number of green vegetables, so this one might be a good buy for your medicine cabinet. Omega 3 fatty acids are needed for a variety of bodily functions, including the formation and maintenance of brain cell membranes, and the maintenance of a healthy circulatory system. Given its role in the brain, Omega 3 has been linked to increased cognitive function, and may well help kids to concentrate (your grandma was right when she told you that eating fish would make you smart!). Studies have even shown that children with ADHD and related disorders who were fed an Omega 3 supplement generally demonstrated a great improvement in their symptoms. They became less agitated, less hyperactive, more able to concentrate, their grades improved, and they seemed generally happier. Nobody is quite sure as yet why this occurred, but it nonetheless seems like a good reason to pop a cod liver oil pill into your child’s lunchbox!
Iron, B Vitamins, and Calcium
These have all been placed in the same category, as they’re something that – assuming that your child is eating a healthy, balanced diet – you should only need to supplement if your child is on a specific eating plan. If your child is a vegetarian, it is probably a good idea to provide them with iron and B-Vitamin supplements. Iron and B-Vitamins can be found in other sources (spinach and broccoli are rich in iron), but most people get the majority of these nutrients from meat. Iron helps your red blood cells to carry oxygen through the body, which is naturally vital for ensuring that your body functions and grows properly. B-Vitamins have a wide variety of bodily functions, none of which you want your child to be without! If your child is lactose-intolerant, or on a dairy-free diet, then a calcium pill may be the way forward. Calcium is needed for the formation of healthy teeth and bones. Calcium deficiency during childhood can lead to a weakened or even deformed skeleton. Calcium is not exclusively found in dairy products, so you don’t necessarily have to resort to a supplement for a dairy-free child, but it might be something to consider.
 Dr Chris Van Tulleken, "The problem with taking too many vitamins", BBC News, October 2013
 Paula A Offit, "Don't Take Your Vitamins", New York Times, June 2013
 Jordan Lite, "Vitamin D deficiency soars in the U.S., study says", Scientific American, March 2009
 Nobelprize.org "Linus Pauling: Facts"
Helen Marks previously worked in the healthcare service, with children and families who struggled with diet and nutrition, she helped advise on healthy eating and aspects of fitness. When she became a mother herself, she took a step back and decided to start writing articles on the topics she had trained in, instead.