Most frequently asked questions about vitamins and minerals
If my child is eating a healthy diet does he/she need to take any vitamins?
I believe that a good, varied diet is of paramount importance. You cannot replace food with vitamin and mineral supplements. However, sadly our food is not what it used to be. With nutrient depletion in the soil due to intensive farming, and long-distance shipping and storage of fruits and vegetables, levels of nutrients in our food has been steadily declining over the last fifty years. (see News) Additionally, refined foods, such as white flour, pasta, bread and rice have had up to 90% of the minerals stripped from them during this refining process.
For these reasons, I think that a good all round children's multi-vitamin and mineral is a good 'supplement' to their diet. It will help to make up for those minor dietary indiscretions that are inevitable through childhood and will boost their intake of the nutrients that are vital for growth and development. Government guidelines recommend vitamin drops for all children aged 6 months to 5 years. Using products designed for children will prevent you from giving your child too much. Supplements should always be given with food and not on an empty stomach.
Can Vitamin C cure a cold?
This theory came out in the 1970's when Dr Linus Pauling published his book Vitamin C and the common cold. The twice Nobel Prize winner claimed that taking 3 grams of vitamin C a day would provide considerable protection against the common cold. He also recommended that if a cold appeared, taking 1 to 2 grams of vitamin C every hour until symptoms disappeared would stop the cold. Since then many studies have proved vitamin C's anti-viral action.
For children, however, I would never recommend doses of vitamin C higher than 1,000mg a day, except in certain special circumstances. At the start of a cold, you can mix 500mg-1,000mg (depending on age) of vitamin C powder into a pint of diluted apple juice and offer it at regular intervals through the day to help reduce the severity of the symptoms. Vitamin C must not be taken if your child has kidney disease or is vomiting. (Incidentally Linus Pauling took 10grams of vitamin C a day and lived to the age of 93!)
There are so many vitamins and minerals for children, how do I know which is the best to buy?
Supplements can be a minefield. Always get guidance on recommended products for your children's age group and never use vitamins and minerals therapeutically unless you are under the guidance of a nutritionist or nutritionally orientated doctor. This will ensure that you are not giving too much or too little of the necessary nutrients to your child.
Here are some simple tips when choosing supplements:
Avoid supplements with added sugar or artificial sweeteners
Avoid supplements with unnecessary synthetic fillers and binders
Minerals come in different forms, some are easier to absorb than others. Citrates, ascorbates and amino acid chelates are the best absorbed. Carbonate, gluconate and sulphate are the least well absorbed.
From ages 6 months to two years use drops or powder forms that can be added to food
From 2 years onwards you can progress onto chewable varieties or continue with the liquid or powder forms
Look at Suppliers on my useful links page or check in the back of Boost Your Child's Immune System for product recommendations
What are the best vegetarian sources of iron?
Here is a list of useful sources of iron for the vegetarian child:
dark green leafy vegetables
iron fortified cereals
Avoid high fibre meals that can inhibit iron absorption and offer diluted fruit juices at mealtimes which are rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C helps with the absorption of non-haem iron.
How much milk does my child need to ensure adequate calcium?
Up to the age of one, your child needs to be having 600ml of formula or breastmilk daily. This can include any formula or equivalent that is used in cooking.
After the age of one, your child can progress onto whole cow's milk or a dairy substitute such as calcium enriched soya milk (if there are allergies present). To receive 350- 450mg of calcium daily your child will need to be consuming 350ml of milk or the equivalent. This takes into account the other calcium sources likely to be in your child's diet like yoghurts, cheese, nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables and GM free soya products.
During puberty the requirement for calcium increases sharply to between 800mg daily for girls to 1,000mg for boys. This is a time to increase calcium rich foods and avoid foods that rob the body of calcium like fizzy drinks. Calcium doesn't only come from dairy products and with the ever increasing incidence of allergies it would be unwise to suggest all adolescents increase their dairy intake three fold. Non-dairy sources of calcium are: Canned sardines, pilchards and salmon with bones, Calcium enriched tofu and other soya products, enriched soya milk, enriched rice milk, almonds and almond butter, dark green leafy vegetables, tahini and blackstrap molasses. As well as boosting calcium intake, it is also important to supply the body with plenty of nutrients that help with calcium utilization, like magnesium. Include plenty of seafood, beans, tofu, green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds as well as dairy products in your adolescent and teenagers diet.
When should my children take their vitamins?
Vitamins work best when taken with meals. It is best to add vitamin drops to foods rather than drinks. Drinks are seldom finished.
Do vitamins and minerals lose their effect if you take them all the time?
No, this is a complete myth. Your child's requirement of nutrients might change as he/she grows but vitamins and minerals do not operate like some homeopathic or herbal medicines, like Echinacea, that can lose their effectiveness if taken long term.
What are the Recommended Daily Allowances and how were they calculated?
The RDA's were set by governments around the world to establish what level of vitamins and minerals were adequate for a general population to prevent deficiency diseases like scurvy, and beriberi. These have been around, in this country, for over 30 years. The most recent update was 1991 in the form of Dietary Reference Values. You will find foods like cereals, often have the percentage RNI (reference nutrient intake) listed on the label. Different countries have set different levels of RDA's and no-one has yet discovered what levels of nutrients we need to be in 'tip top health'.
Sadly, government diet surveys carried out over the years in this country continue to show that children tend to fall below the recommended daily allowances for some vitamins and minerals.
How do I know that my child is getting enough of the nutrients she needs?
Although it is very useful to be aware of which foods contain which nutrients, it is neither practical nor advisable to analyse your child's diet in terms of nutritional content. The easiest way to ensure that your child is getting the right amount of nutrients is to provide a varied diet containing lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and plenty of wholegrains. Knowing what deficiency symptoms can occur is also a useful tool in assessing dietary adequacy. Look at the Appendix in Optimum Nutrition for Babies and Young Children for a list of these symptoms.