Consultant dietitian Aveen Bannon gives parents advice on essential vitamins and mineral supplements for children
For parents who are wary about giving their child extra vitamin and mineral supplements, Ireland’s leading expert dietitian, Aveen Bannon, answers some questions.
Q: In what cases should you give your child a vitamin supplement?
A: All children from 0-12 months should be given vitamin D3 supplements daily (5ug). In North America, 5ug of vitamin D per day is recommended for infants and young children up to three years of age. In Canada, which is at a similar northerly latitude to Ireland, all babies taking less than 500ml of infant formula are supplemented with 10ug of vitamin D. We currently recommend 5ug per day and there are specific supplements specially formulated for babies that are available in your pharmacy.
Once your toddler has a balanced diet, they may not require any vitamin supplements, but an age-appropriate multivitamin will not do any harm either. If your child drinks 500ml of a growing up milk daily from one-year-of age, they will not need a vitamin as the growing up milk has vitamins and minerals added to it. To be clear, this is a personal choice. You can give your one year old a varied balanced diet with regular full -fat milk or use a growing up milk. The growing up milk or an age-appropriate multivitamin are not a necessity, but I suppose can act like an insurance policy for nutritional balance. Also bear in mind your toddler should not have more than 500ml of milk a day. Too much milk will fill them up and they’ll eat less at mealtimes.
Some children with food sensitivities, allergies, a vegetarian diet or who have been suffering from illness may require vitamins, which can be discussed with their GP or dietitian.
Q: With so many foods fortified with vitamins and minerals, how can you be sure you are not giving your child too many vitamins?
A: This is a very valid point. Taking a daily supplement won’t do any damage as long as it does not exceed the recommended daily amount (RDA) for any one vitamin or mineral. But if your child is taking a growing up milk they will probably not need a multivitamin.
As regards other foods, if your child is eating a varied diet and getting plenty of fruits, vegetables and iron-rich foods, they may not require a multivitamin.
Q: What precautions should parents take with giving vitamins to their children?
A: Always check they are age-appropriate and that they are stored in a cupboard where the children cannot access them. Some of them can look like sweets and therefore very tempting to a child.
Also remember that supplements are not a substitute for whole foods and are there to complement the diet. If your child is a fussy eater, give them a multivitamin in addition to taking steps to improve their eating habits.
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