Here’s the scoop on the top five supplements to keep your kids growing strong in 2011. Of course, a balanced nutritious diet and regular exercise are the keys to a healthy lifestyle, but supplements can provide extra support, important nutrients and fill in the gaps when needed.
1 Vitamin D
According to a 2009 study in Pediatrics, 63-percent of children ages 1 to 5 have suboptimal levels of vitamin D in their blood, and a recent U.S.-based study revealed that 7 out of 10 children have dangerously low levels of vitamin D, leaving them at risk for heart disease, rickets and weak bones. Recent studies show that vitamin D may reduce the risk for eczema, asthma, allergies, diabetes and heart disease in adulthood.
Sufficient vitamin D levels are difficult to obtain from dietary sources. However, it’s possible to increase vitamin D levels from direct sun exposure. The downside is that a generous amount of unprotected sun exposure is necessary for the body to create sufficient amounts of vitamin D, thus increasing the risk for skin cancer. In addition, kids spend most of their time indoors watching television, playing video games, or on the computer, so vitamin D supplements are recommended for all kids to assure proper levels for everyone.
In 2008 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) increased the recommended minimum daily intake from 200 IUs to 400 IUs per day of vitamin D intake in infants, children and teens.
Probiotics (such as acidophilus) are friendly bacteria that inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, promote good digestion, boost immune function and increase resistance to infections. According to a study in Pediatrics, July 2009, children ages 3 to 5 who took twice-daily probiotics supplements reduced fevers by 73 percent, coughs by 62 percent and runny noses by 59 percent. Probiotics can also reduce bouts of diarrhea or colic in infants, and the risk of eczema.
For acute conditions, such as diarrhea, 3 billion to 5 billion CFUs are recommended, and for daily use, about 1 billion is suggested.
For babies or small children, powdered probiotics mixed with formula, juice or water are ideal. Get the probiotic acidophilus from the source. Look for yogurt or kefir with live and active cultures.
For strong bones now and to reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis later in life, it’s critical that your child eats plenty of calcium-rich foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt to meet the recommended calcium requirements. Unfortunately, most children do not meet their daily calcium needs. One study showed that more than 86 percent of girls and 65 percent of boys fail to get enough calcium after age 11.
Over the last 30 years, milk consumption has declined by 40 percent, while consumption of carbonated beverages, sports, energy and fruit drinks has tripled. Over 70 percent of the calcium in our food supply comes from milk and dairy foods, so without milk on the menu, it’s unlikely your kids will meet their daily calcium needs.
Essential fatty acids are critical for optimal brain development in children and DHA, at 60 percent, is the most prominent fat in the brain. Most researchers agree that DHA plays a vital role in managing behavior, mood and memory, and researchers are studying its effect on Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Asperger’s Syndrome, autism and depression.
To ensure your children get enough DHA throughout their development, it’s recommended that children 2 to 3 years old eat a varied diet with 30 to 35 percent of calories coming from healthy fats, and for children ages 4 to 18 years, the recommendation is for a balanced diet with 25-percent to 35-percent of calories coming from healthy fats. One of the best sources of DHA is salmon; three ounces contain 1,500 mg of DHA & EPA. Since young children may not readily eat fish, supplementation of at least 150 mg. per day of DHA is recommended.
Making sure your child gets all the nutrients they need each day is a daunting task especially with a fickle toddler’s palate and their general dislike of anything green (and healthy). The toddler stage is often the worst for nutritional deficiencies, which is unfortunate because it is a crucial stage in development, which requires proper nutrition.
Children’s multivitamins come to the rescue. Available in a variety of forms, liquid multivitamins are best for small children, since chewable vitamins may pose a choking risk for toddlers. Depending on your child’s diet, choose a multivitamin with 50 to 100 percent of the daily recommended values for folic acid, potassium, iron, zinc and vitamins A, C, E and D. Avoid multivitamins with artificial preservatives and colors, as many studies have linked food dyes to hyperactivity in 3-year-olds. Choose multivitamins sweetened with natural fruit juice instead of sugar.
Janet Little is a Certified Nutritionist with Henry’s Farmers Market.