Vitamins and minerals are chemicals needed in tiny amounts to stay healthy. A healthy diet is the best way to get these nutrients. Most children who eat a healthy diet do not need vitamin and mineral supplements. Children who have a poor diet, liver disease, cystic fibrosis, or other medical problems may need to take vitamin and mineral supplements. Premature babies and children who are breastfed may also need certain supplements. Check with your child’s healthcare provider before giving your child vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin A is needed for growth and for strong bones and teeth. Milk and infant formulas are good sources of Vitamin A, which is a fat soluble vitamin. Vitamin A is present in liver, fish liver oils, dairy products, dark green and yellow-orange vegetables, and in fruits. Too much vitamin A may cause symptoms that include headache, itchy skin, and hair loss.
There are several vitamins in the B group. B vitamins help the body produce energy, and help keep nerves and skin healthy. Vitamins in the B group are present in meats, dairy products, nuts, grains, and leaf vegetables. Too much vitamin B6 can cause nerve problems.
Vitamin C helps build healthy tissues. It also plays a role in the healing process. It is found in fruit (especially citrus fruit and cantaloupes) and vegetables, such as tomatoes and green peppers. It has not been proven that large doses of vitamin C can help prevent colds. Too much vitamin C can cause diarrhea.
Vitamin D builds strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D is present in dairy products, infant formulas, oily fish, liver, and egg yolk. Sunlight is another source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin. Breastfed infants need to take a supplement of 400 IU of Vitamin D each day. Infants and children who drink 16 to 17 ounces of formula or Vitamin D fortified milk do not need to take a supplement. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that older children or teens who do not drink at least 32 ounces of vitamin D-fortified milk should take vitamin D supplements. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about this.
Vitamin E helps keep the body's cells healthy and helps form new red blood cells. It is present in nuts, seeds, plant oils, meat, grains, and egg yolk. Too much vitamin E can cause stomach upset and can keep the body from absorbing vitamins A, D, and K.
Vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin needed to help blood clot after an injury. Vitamin K is found in leafy vegetables, vegetable oils, egg yolk, pork, and liver.
Calcium is a mineral needed for strong bones. Milk and dairy products are some of the best sources of calcium. Babies under 1 year old should drink breast milk or iron-fortified formula. Children 1 to 2 years old should drink whole milk because certain fats are needed for development during this early stage. Between the ages of 2 and 5 years, gradually switch from whole milk to low-fat milk or fat-free milk. There are plenty of dairy foods other than milk that are great sources of calcium. Several brands of calcium fortified juices, cereals, and soy foods are now available. Green vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, and fish with soft, edible bones, provide calcium too.
Iron is another mineral that helps develop strong muscles and blood. It is generally better for children to eat foods high in iron rather than to take a supplement. Too much iron can poison a child. Iron is found in meat, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes, and iron-enriched foods.
Zinc is an important mineral, especially for teens. It helps with growth and sexual maturation. Foods high in zinc include meats, seafood, dairy products, whole grains, breads and fortified cereals, nuts and dried beans.
Most children can get enough fluoride from the water they drink, because most city water supplies are treated with fluoride. Well water and filtered or bottled water often do not contain fluoride. Infant formulas do not contain enough fluoride. Talk to your healthcare provider about giving fluoride supplements. It is usually better to have your child drink water that is supplemented with fluoride instead of giving extra fluoride drops or supplements. Too much fluoride can make your child's teeth turn brown.
If you decide to give your child vitamins and minerals, follow these guidelines: