In my practice, nutritional deficiencies factor strongly in treatment plans. When it comes to children, the first line of defense against vitamin deficiencies is a well-rounded diet of whole foods. I know, all the mothers of picky-eaters are rolling their eyes right now, but it takes more than just distaste for veggies to cause a problem.
Vitamin supplementation is necessary when children eat a strict diet such as vegan, have multiple food allergies, avoid one or more entire food group or have medical conditions that result in malabsorption. Additionally, many children have key functional medicine issues that require additional nutritional supplementation beyond a healthy diet. These functional medicine issues are often the combination of a genetic predisposition and environmental factors, but can result in many common pediatric conditions, like asthma, allergies, ADHD, depression and obesity.
Most pediatricians recommend an over-the-counter, children’s multivitamin as a “nutritional safety net.” I think it is more beneficial to specifically address the deficiencies of each patient. I am not a huge proponent of multivitamins, since many children (and adults) have difficulty absorbing the many nutrients crammed into a multivitamin pill.
To help you navigate the waters of your child’s nutrition, here is a list of vitamins particularly important for healthy growth and development:
- Vitamin A: Important for healthy eyes and immune system. It is in milk, cheese, eggs and yellow-orange vegetables like sweet potato and squash.
- B-Vitamins: Aid in metabolism and energy production. Vegetarian and vegan diets are often low in these. Nutritional yeast is a good supplement. The B vitamins play a prominent role in the mental health of children.
- Vitamin C: Promotes healthy muscles and skin. Easily found in many fruits and vegetables.
- Vitamin D: Important for bone and tooth formation, as well as the absorption of calcium. Children who do not eat dairy products or spend a lot of time indoors can become deficient. Vitamin D is also critical for a healthy, active immune system.
- Calcium: Helps build strong bones, also affected if a child avoids dairy and limits intake of calcium rich nuts, like almonds and dark, leafy greens. For lactose intolerant children, almond milk is a good alternative.
- Iron: Builds muscle and is essential for healthy red blood cells. Often low in many children, iron plays a role in focus, energy and hormone metabolism.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is a very common nutritional deficiency and can result in constipation, anxiety, and poor hormone metabolism. Magnesium is found naturally in nuts, seeds and many vegetables. Our current soil however is also deficient in magnesium.
- Fat: Not technically a vitamin, but it is vitally important for vitamin absorption. Vitamins A, D, E and K are all fat soluble; meaning they have to be consumed with fat. Healthy unsaturated fats like olive oil, avocados and nuts are all- important for children and should not be restricted. The omega 3 fats have also received lots of press and seem to help everything from ADHD to eczema. Omega 3 fats are found in fatty fishes, nuts, and seeds like flax or chia. Often, children do not have a palate for these foods, so omega 3 supplements will appear frequently on my treatment plans.
Dosing supplements in children is dependent on age and weight. Ideally, supplements are determined once a child’s key functional medicine issues are identified.