Parenting Lesson 23: Nutrition beyond food

Topics covered in this lesson-

  1. Many parents ask if they should be giving their children a multivitamin

  2. Calcium and vitamin D requirements

  3. Does my child need extra protein?

  4. Are nutrition supplements needed for my child?

Many parents ask if they should be giving their children a multivitamin

Giving your child a multivitamin seems like a safe bet, particularly if you have a picky eater. But the fact is that most babies and toddlers don't need them. Vitamins will not shield your child from childhood disease or make it grow faster or taller. In reality, so many foods are fortified with vitamins and minerals these days—for example, bread contains folate and iron, and orange juice has calcium—that even if your child isn't the greatest eater, he's sure to get plenty of vitamins when he eats table food. There are however a few circumstances under which your doctor may prescribe multivitamins. Vitamin drop or extra iron may be indicated for prematurity, low birth weight infants and infants with some metabolic disorders. Some physicians often regularly recommend multivitamin drops for breastfed infants because breast milk lacks adequate vitamin D and does not contain enough iron after 6 months. However, if the child is safe and the mother is well nourished and takes a multivitamin on her own, this is not necessary. Also, at 6 months, most babies begin to eat solids that contain iron. Kids normally dislike the heavy metallic taste of vitamin drops, so it's just as well. Of course, if giving your child a regular multivitamin helps you feel better, go ahead; usually, it's not harmful.

Calcium and vitamin D requirements

Calcium and vitamin D are important for building solid, dense bones when young and keeping them strong and healthy as you age. The details given here will help you learn more about calcium and vitamin D – the two most essential nutrients for bone health.

Calcium is a mineral that is important for life. In addition to building up bones and keeping them safe, calcium stimulates our blood to clot, our muscles to contract, and our heart to pound. Around 99 per cent of the calcium in our body is in our bones and teeth. Every day, we lose our skin, our nails, our hair, our sweat, our urine and our faces. Our bodies cannot generate their calcium. That's why it's crucial to get enough calcium from the food we're eating. If we don't get the calcium that our body wants, it's stripped from our bones. This is good once in a while but if it happens too often the bones become brittle and easier to crack.

Vitamin D plays an important role in protecting your bones, both by helping your body to absorb calcium and by strengthening the muscles required to prevent falls. Children need vitamin D to develop strong bones, and adults need vitamin D to keep their bones strong and healthy. If you don't get enough vitamin D, you're more likely to break your bones as you age.

Does my child need extra protein?

So how much protein is enough for that? Ten to 30 per cent of your calorie intake can come from protein, says the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine:

● For younger children, age breaks down: children aged 4 to 9 require 19 grams of protein per day. Those between the ages of 9 and 13 require 34 grams.

● Adolescents aged 14 to 18 differ by gender: boys need 52 grams and girls need 46 grams.

Protein is the primary building block of the body. It helps to shape muscles, to generate hormones, to strengthen the skin and bones, and to transport nutrients. It's so essential, you might think that more protein is equal to a stronger one.

But consuming extra protein—especially protein supplements—is not necessarily safe. In reality, too much protein in your child's diet may lead to long-term health problems.

Are nutrition supplements needed for my child?

Vitamins and minerals are important for healthy child growth and development. Children who eat a well-balanced diet usually don't need a vitamin or mineral supplement. However certain children are at risk for deficiencies and may require supplementation.

Children who adopt vegetarian or vegan diets may need vitamin B12 supplements because they are found only in animal-based foods. Children with celiac disease are at greater risk of nutritional deficiency and may require supplements. Also, children who have a low appetite, consume a lot of sugar-sweetened drinks, take some drugs or have chronic medical conditions that interfere with their intake may need a supplement.

Speak to your child's health care provider about supplements before providing them to your child. Taking significant quantities of vitamins that surpass the recommended daily dose can be harmful and can lead to symptoms such as nausea, headaches or diarrhoea. Often shop supplements out of reach of children.