In the US, we spend about 23 billion dollars a year on vitamins (rough estimate from several internet sources, it might not be exact, but basically we spend A LOT of money on vitamins). Vitamins are a bit of a catchall for health. We take them “just in case”, kind of like insurance. This money we’re spending might never help us, but then again, it just might. How could we ever know? Truly, the doctor never says, “wow, your bones look great. It must be because you’ve been taking calcium for the last 20 years!”
Vitamins seem like a safe bet. Your body soaks up what you need and eliminates the rest. That strikes me as just a bit wasteful. So I vacillate between taking my vitamins and not taking them. My kids are a different story. Because we eat very little processed food, they miss out on all the “fortified” this and that, so on my worst days I get pretty paranoid and find myself surfing drugstore.com searching for a better vitamin. Until I think about all the veggies and fruit I cram in to their diets, and then I chill out again. But then I read the news and start to worry….my mind pings back and forth on this one.
According to the Mayo Clinic, and a few other sites, clearly I am not alone. No one seems to know for sure. Most say that kids probably get all they need from their diets and the fortified foods available in today’s supermarket. But then they cover their buts by saying a multi vitamin is probably a good idea. An awful lot of “probably” in that prescription. It comes down to this - basically they can’t hurt as long as you select a vitamin with no more than 100% of the RDA and you follow the label instructions.
As a mother I know there is plenty of guilt coming my way down the road when my spawn become parents themselves and realize just how many ways I messed them up. So vitamins seem like a safe gamble and at least I can’t be held accountable if they realize down the road that the diet I served them was missing some crucial vitamin or mineral. What? I gave you a multi-vitamin for that!
There are two supplemental vitamins I give to my kids. I’ve read enough to be convinced that these two are missing from pretty much everyone’s diet, at least in sufficient amounts. The first is Vitamin D. Research comes out almost daily on the need for more Vitamin D. I give it to my kids and take it myself, and occasionally sneak it in to my husband’s coffee.
Omega-3’s are the other vitamin I’m prepared to take a stand on. Most of us don’t get enough unless we eat fatty fish, flaxseed, and nuts daily. I’ve started leaving nuts out on the counter and on the premium shelving in the fridge, in the hopes that my kids will nibble on more nuts – brazil nuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds, pistachios. They’re all stuffed with good nutrients that can protect our health. Omega 3’s are not only good for your heart, their brain food and I’m all about feeding those young minds.
Enough about what I think, what do the experts say? The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children do not need a multi-vitamin when there have been no signs of vitamin deficiency. Still, they haven’t examined my child. How could they know? I’ll give them their point about all the fortified foods these days, but my kids aren’t eating much packaged foods. Except Cheeze-its. Still haven’t managed to get them off cheezeits. I should check if cheeze-its are fortified, because that might save me a lot of money on vitamins. (Addie and I are going to test a “homemade cheezit” recipe this weekend – I’ll let you know how that goes)
What’s a mother to do? Well, this mother gives her children a multi-vitamin that has no artificial colors or sweeteners, a chewable Omega 3 supplement, and 400 IU of Vitamin D (but only during the colder months, October – April). I do believe the big guns, and our septic tank is most likely laced with vitamins, but I’m hedging my bets.
A note on choosing a vitamin. Look for a children’s vitamin that does not contain iron in the form of ferrous sulfate. Many kid’s vitamins are the “gummy” form and this can make them seem like candy. Kids can overdose on ferrous sulfate making them sick, even killing them. So while kids do need the iron (unless they’re big meat and bean eaters), look for carbonyl iron, to be safe.
Another thing to watch in children’s vitamins is the sweetener. Many vitamins, such as Flintstones and Centrum, have the warning PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE, which is a sure sign that they contain aspartame (nutrasweet). Artificial sweeteners and artificial colors kind of counter act the whole point of vitamins. Find a vitamin that doesn’t contain either. It’s a unique child (with a four-star parent) who willingly swallows tasteless vitamins. This makes sugar a necessary evil in children’s vitamins. Look for vitamins with 1 gram of sugar or less. Some have more than others – read the label.
When it comes to vitamins, like so much else about parenting, there’s no clear answer. You do the best you can, with what you know. That’s anyone can ask.