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Choosing The Right Multivitamin For Children

To Your Health
August, 2007 (Vol. 01, Issue 08)

From the Flintstones to the Gummi Bears, cartoon vitamins may seem like a fun, easy way to encourage children to take nutritional supplements. But do they give your child the nutrients they truly need? Get the truth about cartoon vitamins and their impact on your child’s health.

By Dr. Richard Drucker

 

Children have a greater need for proper and more complete nutrition than do adults. That is a fact. So, why do we give our kids cartoon-shaped sugar pills containing synthetic vitamins? Proper nutrition is vital for the development of teeth, bones and muscles, as well as neuro-cognitive, immune-system and many other important functions. It also should serve as a primary defense against chronic diseases. But are your children getting the nutrition they need? Let’s first understand a child’s daily requirements for vitamins and nutrients.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently revised its long-standing food pyramid to illustrate that a healthy balance of the food groups is required, along with daily physical exercise. Visit www.mypyramid.gov and you’ll find a number of educational tools to help fit a nutritional plan to your specific child.

Also trying to help ensure our kids get adequate nutrition is the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It publishes guidelines for the recommended daily intake of 25 vitamins and minerals. These guidelines appear most commonly as U.S. RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances) on food labels. All manufacturers of food sold in the U.S. are required to accurately state the percentage RDA per serving on its labels.

To understand how a child should be eating, let’s start with the FDA’s RDA of vitamins and minerals. It segregates needs based on two age groups: ages 2 to 3, and ages 4 to adult. In our case study, we modeled a 6-year-old girl’s daily needs. Next, we visited the food pyramid to obtain recommended foods from the various food groups in the appropriate proportions. We came up with a list of foods for a single day’s diet (Table 1). This set of food selections should yield a good nutritional base for our 6-year-old girl.

The pyramid recommends that our 6-year-old limit extra fats and sugars to less than 170 calories per day. We calculated the vitamins and minerals in these food selections, and mapped them against the RDA values for vitamins and minerals. What did we find? Take a look at Table 2.

In this example, our 6-year-old girl achieves the recommended daily amount of only six of the 25 FDA-tracked nutrients. She is left woefully deficient in the remainder, including some of the most important. The nutrients are listed in the order mandated by the FDA, which is supposed to reflect the relative importance of each item.

This exercise illustrates that even using the available tools and guidelines to design a well-balanced daily diet, the average parent will likely end up providing meals to their child with nutritional shortfalls. In fact, even the most able nutritionist would be challenged. Consider that most parents have schedules that force them to take advantage of the conveniences of pre-prepared meals, drive thrus and highly processed foods. Unfortunately, poor dietary habits in children are the norm, not the exception.

A large study published in the journal Pediatrics monitored more than 3,000 children and showed that only 1 percent of the children met the recommendations for the food pyramid. This same study indicated these children were low in vitamin B6, iron, calcium, zinc and fiber.

Let’s look again at our 6-year-old’s diet and map the nutritional value of what a typical 1st grader might eat in a day:

 

Breakfast: 1 cup Fruity O’s cereal, 1 cup 2 percent milk

Lunch: 1 cup fruit juice, 4 chicken nuggets, 1/2 cup green beans, 1 banana

Snack: 1 cup tortilla chips (cheese flavor), fruit snack

Dinner: 1 slice pizza, 12-oz lemon-lime soda, 1 brownie

 

Now let’s look at how that daily diet affects our 6-year-old’s daily nutritional profile. As shown in Table 3, our 1st grader, aided by highly processed and fortified food selections, achieved her RDA for one more (seven) of the 25 nutrients, but has consumed 50 percent more calories than the USDA recommends for her age. We also should be concerned with the additional sugar and fats associated with these menu choices.

The correct conclusion to this data analysis is that we must supplement our children’s diets, because it is virtually impossible for them to consistently eat the right combination of foods to provide their necessary nutrition. For this reason, knowledgeable health care and nutrition professionals recommend vitamin supplements for children.

Where does a parent turn, but to their local grocery or pharmacy shelf? There, they will find all manner of cute and cuddly candy-like multivitamins. They will review the labels to select one that appears to have a full spectrum of what’s missing from their child’s diet.

So, this should be the end of this article … but it’s not. What’s wrong with cartoon vitamins? A study of the available products reveals startling, problematic results. They contain synthetic vitamins, inadequate minerals, as well as binders, preservatives and sugar – some of the very items we need the supplements to combat in the first place! Yet those items are listed first in the ingredient section of the cartoon vitamin label. Unfortunately, the primary consumers for these products (parents) are untrained in how to interpret the labels. The most glaring problems include:

  • The formulas are incomplete.
  • They contain synthetic vitamins: chemically derived substances that are supposed to mimic the natural form, but in fact are like mirror-image opposites.
  • Processed sugar is used to flavor the pills to increase compliance, but most kids already get too much sugar in their daily diets.
  • To get the vitamins to hold their cute shapes, manufacturers use binders, which are non-natural chemical additives.

We need to provide our kids with the kind of nutritional supplements informed adults demand:

  • All-natural, with no synthetic chemical nutrients.
  • Derived from whole foods.
  • Complete and balanced formula, meaning they should contain at least the 25 FDA-recommended nutrients, preferably more.
  • Good taste to ensure compliance, but without added sugar. Liquids are best, as they absorb better and the dosing can be modified, depending on the child’s size and needs.
  • Need to contain the full spectrum of organic trace minerals.

What is the solution? In this case, unfortunately, there aren’t many good ones. Randy Miles, a certified nutritionist and co-owner of Family Health Market in Frisco, Texas, does not recommend any children’s multivitamin product. Rather, he uses their best liquid adult’s formula and reduces the dosage for children. “Multivitamin supplements for children are in a segment that is virtually ignored. What you find are products containing only the bare minimum of nutrients and also alarmingly include titanium and aluminum.” Miles continues, “Cartoon vitamins are all that is out there, so many pediatricians recommend them, but it’s more about marketing to the kids than it is about nutrition.”

The proof is in the pudding. Today's children face more obstacles to good health than just poor nutrition. Our kids are exposed to more toxins, pollution and stress than those in one or two generations prior. They're dealing with free-radical damage and oxidative stress daily and in higher amounts. Air pollution, water pollution, pesticides, preservatives, radiation, smoke, fatty foods and stress are factors that raise free-radical levels. These free radicals increase risks of degenerative diseases, as they cause cellular and tissue damage within the body.

There is a great need for diets rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to combat the free-radical damage. Children receiving the right amount and combination of these minerals and vitamins are better able to counteract the effects of the extra toxins they might face. It is absolutely a must for them to strengthen their armor with a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables, and low in processed foods and sugars. Then, we must augment that effort with the very best supplements available. Our kids deserve better health than their parents, but unless we do something, they are fighting an uphill battle.

 


 

Dr. Richard Drucker is a licensed naturopath performing concentrated research and work in the natural health and nutraceutical fields for more than 20 years.

 

  

FOOD ISN’T ENOUGH: Why Children Need A Multivitamin

 

 

 TABLE 1
Recommended Daily Diet for a 6-Year-Old Girl
1,400 calories, 30-60 minutes of exercise

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Food Group Item Amount

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Grains    
Need: 5 ounces Cornflakes 1 cup
  Whole wheat crackers 5 crackers
  White rice 1 cup
  Popcorn 3 cups

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Vegetables    
Need: 1.5 Cups Green beans cup
  Baby carrots 1 cup

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Fruits    
Need: 1.5 Cups Banana 1 medium
  Strawberries cup

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Milk    
Need: 2 Cups Milk 1 cup
  Cheddar cheese, shredded 1/3 cup

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Meat and Beans    
Need: 4 ounces Chicken breast, roasted 3 oz
  Cashews, roasted 1 oz (18 nuts)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Fats and Oils    
Limit: 4 tsp Cashews 2 t oil
  Popcorn 2 t oil

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Source: USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory,

www.mypyramid.com

 

 

TABLE 2
RDA of Nutrients Based on Recommended Daily Diet
6-Year-Old Girl, 1,400 calories, 30-60 minutes of exercise

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Vitamin/Mineral RDA Units Totals % RDA
  Age 4 +   Age 4+

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Vitamin A 5,000 IU 13,469 269%
Vitamin C 60 mg 63 105%
Calcium 1,000 mg 761 76%
Iron 18 mg 14 79%
Vitamin D 400 IU 142 36%
Vitamin E 30 IU 1 5%
Vitamin K 80 mcg 20 25%
Thiamin (Vitamin B1) 1.5 mg 1 67%
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) 1.7 mg 1 79%
Niacin (Vitamin B3) 20 mg 21 107%
Pyrodoxine (Vitamin B6) 2 mg 2 113%
Folate 400 mcg 310 78%
Vitamin B12 6 mcg 3 53%
Biotin 300 mcg 0 0%
Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5) 10 mg 4 38%
Phosphorus 1,000 mg 1,121 112%
Iodine 150 mcg 0 0%
Magnesium 400 mg 241 60%
Zinc 15 mg 7 49%
Selenium 70 mcg 60 85%
Copper 2 mg 1 48%
Manganese 2 mg 2 101%
Chromium 120 mcg 0 0%
Molybdenum 75 mcg 0 0%
Chloride 3,400 mg 0 0%
 
Calories 1,400   1,276 91%

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Source: USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory,

www.mypyramid.com

 

 

TABLE 3
RDA of Nutrients in Typical Daily Diet
6-Year-Old Girl (1st Grader)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Vitamin/Mineral RDA Units Totals % RDA
  Age 4 +     Age 4+

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Vitamin A 5,000 IU 1,993 40%
Vitamin C 60 mg 144.7 241%
Calcium 1,000 mg 819.8 82%
Iron 18 mg 16.01 89%
Vitamin D 400 IU 98 25%
Vitamin E 30 IU 3.11 10%
Vitamin K 80 mcg 19.8 25%
Thiamin (Vitamin B1) 1.5 mg 1.754 117%
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) 1.7 mg 1.815 107%
Niacin (Vitamin B3) 20 mg 24.495 122%
Pyrodoxine (Vitamin B6) 2 mg 2.874 144%
Folate 400 mcg 263.3 66%
Vitamin B12 6 mcg 3.629 60%
Biotin 300 mcg 0 0%
Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5) 10 mg 4.137 41%
Phosphorus 1,000 mg 1,273 127%
Iodine 150 mcg 0 0%
Magnesium 400 mg 211 53%
Zinc 15 mg 11.151 74%
Selenium 70 mcg 72.9 104%
Copper 2 mg 0.697 35%
Manganese 2 mg 1.285 64%
Chromium 120 mcg 0 0%
Molybdenum 75 mcg 0 0%
Chloride 3,400 mg 0 0%
 
Calories 1,400   2,096 150%

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Source: USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory, www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search

 


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