Vitamins and Supplements
A varied diet is the best source of essential vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals in food are better absorbed than the bottled variety, and they taste a whole lot better, too. If your child's diet is lacking in specific nutrients, either due to dietary patterns (such as vegetarianism or refusal to eat certain foods) or a health condition, your pediatrician may recommend supplements. Never give your child supplements without first consulting a doctor, as too much of some vitamins and minerals can be detrimental to a child's health.
Some important vitamins and minerals in your child's diet include the components listed in the following sections.
Iron is important to both young children and to girls who have reached puberty. Adolescent girls need 15 mg of iron daily, compared to 12 mg for adolescent boys. Younger children require 10 mg of iron each day. Keep in mind that the body only absorbs about 20 percent of dietary iron (less if it's plant-based, versus animal-based). Combining iron with foods high in vitamin C can boost absorption, while mixing it with foods containing tannins (found in tea) or calcium can decrease absorption.
Adolescents in particular need sufficient calcium for their developing skeletal system and should have 1,300 mg daily between the ages of nine and eighteen (about three servings from the milk, cheese, and yogurt group). Children ages four to eight should get 800 mg daily (two servings), and kids age one to three should have 500 mg (which can be found in two eight-ounce glasses of milk). If your child is lactose-intolerant or has milk allergies, you may need to find an alternate dairy-free and calcium-rich food to introduce to the diet, such as collard greens or another dark green, leafy veggie.
Vitamin A is important to immune-system function and to cell growth. Children ages one to three need 1000 IU (International Units) of vitamin A daily, and those between the ages of four and eight require 1333 IU. From ages nine to thirteen, 2000 IU is the RDA, and from ages fourteen to eighteen the RDA is set at 3000 IU. Cheese, eggs, liver, and carrots are all good sources of vitamin A.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that assists in wound healing and oral health. It may also have heart-protective benefits. Between the ages of one and three, children should get 15 mg of vitamin C daily, and from ages four to eight, 25 mg is the RDA. Kids aged nine to thirteen should have an RDA of 45 mg. Boys fourteen to eighteen require 75 mg of vitamin C daily, while girls in that age range need only 65 mg daily. Citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli, green peppers, and tomatoes all contain vitamin C.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a vitamin D supplement of 200 IU per day for those children and adolescents “who do not get regular sunlight exposure, do not ingest at least 500 mL per day of vitamin-D-fortified milk, or do not take a daily multivitamin supplement containing at least 200 IU of vitamin D.”
Too much zinc can impair your child's immune system and cause decreases in HDL (“good”) cholesterol, so talk to your pediatrician before considering a supplement with added zinc. From one to three years of age, zinc intake should not exceed 7 mg. The maximum intake for age four to eight is 12 mg, and children from age nine to thirteen should not have more than 23 mg of zinc daily. Adolescents fourteen to eighteen years of age should keep their daily zinc intake below 34 mg.
Children seven months to three years of age should have 3 mg of zinc daily to ensure proper growth and immune system functioning. Between the ages of four and eight, children need 5 mg of daily zinc, and from ages nine to thirteen they need 8 mg. In adolescence, zinc requirements go up — boys need 11 mg, and girls need 9 mg through age eighteen. Most children can meet these requirements through diet — beef, oysters, fortified cereals, nuts, and beans are just a few of the foods rich in zinc.