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Should you be giving your kids vitamin supplements?

POSTED: May 27, 2014 1:00 p.m.
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To all my little Hulkamaniacs, say your prayers, take your vitamins and you will never go wrong. Hulk Hogan

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Some things you just don’t forget. One of those things for me was lining up with my siblings before leaving for school. There was one thing we had to do before running out the door to catch the bus. Let me explain. My mother was involved. She held a large bottle in one hand and a tablespoon in the other. That’s right, a tablespoon, not a teaspoon.
Mom was a believer in vitamins. I think she bought this bottle of liquid nutrients from the Watkins salesman. We lived on a farm and he would stop by about once a month. My mother enjoyed a good chat with this vitamin-laden fellow who had a family to support. She helped him and his product helped keep us healthy. Or perhaps our good health came from all the fruits and veggies Mom grew in her garden. Maybe it was a combination.
Today’s concern
Nowadays, so much food is processed and so little is fresh from the garden. We have to wonder how many nutrients remain in the food our kids eat. If ever there was a need for more vitamins, today just might be the day. Parents may need to give their kids supplements or up their vitamins through the food they eat.
However, babies and young children most likely are getting all the vitamins and minerals their bodies need from formulas and foods their parents provide for them. At this young age, they are not victims of out-of-the-home foods on a regular basis as much as older children.
However, many parents are frustrated that their little ones just won’t eat the food they put on their plates. They turn up their noses and beg for other less healthy foods or snacks. The problem here is not the children but the parents.
How this California family does it
A few years ago we were guests at the home of a family with six children, ages two to sixteen. Since we were there for a few days we saw their eating habits. The mother fixed breakfast, made sack lunches for the kids and cooked a healthy dinner. She was conscious of providing a balanced diet in these meals. She also did her best to make the meals appealing. They always sat together around the table and began the meal with a prayer of gratitude and blessing on the food.
The thing that impressed us most was that these children ate what was put before them. Without any threats. We were surprised by this willingness on the part of the children and asked the parents what their secret was. The mother said, “From the very first we have taught our children that, in our family we eat the food that is on the table. There will be no going to the cupboard or fridge for alternatives. This is it.” Then the father added, “We told them there would be no complaining about the food. That we would be very grateful for all that we had and eat it.”
The mother also said she would pay attention to the healthy foods the children liked and do her best to include them often. She also had the children help in the preparation of the meals.
This may all sound unrealistic, but we saw it with our own eyes. Not just once but throughout every meal. The kids were happy and respectful. They weren't perfect, but definitely cooperative. There was a good feeling in this home, and the children seemed to be healthy. We didn’t know if they took additional vitamins or not.
The worry
A yahoo news report said, “According to. . . Dietitian, Elizabeth Somer, author of 'The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals,' the absence of health-promoting nutrients in the typical American child's diet is exacerbated by the fact that ‘the typical American child's diet is astronomically high in disease-promoting food components, such as sugar, saturated fat and sodium.' She specifically notes that ‘most children get no omega-3 fats like DHA on any given day as the result of low intake of fatty fish, like salmon. Yet a growing body of evidence shows its importance for developing brains and vision. . . possibly improving sleep habits in school-age children.’ So while she advocates giving a child a multi on days he isn't eating well as ‘an inexpensive way to fill the gaps,’ she also cautions that ‘there's a reason why they're called supplements and not substitutes. You cannot feed your kids McDonald's and a multivitamin and think all your bases are covered.’"
There is no substitute for feeding your children healthy food. Still there are times when it’s difficult to get your kids to consume all the nutrients their bodies require for optimum health. Following is a list of vitamins and minerals kids need, according to WebMD. See how you measure up in providing these nutrients.
Top Six Vitamins and Minerals for Kids
In the alphabet soup of vitamins and minerals, a few stand out as critical for growing kids.
• Vitamin A promotes normal growth and developmen of body tissue and bones. It aids in maintaining healthy skin, eyes and one's immunity. Look for milk, cheese, eggs and yellow-to-orange vegetables like carrots, yams and squash.
• Vitamin B The family of B vitamins are vital in helping metabolism, energy production and supporting circulatory and nervous systems. Good sources include meat, chicken, fish, nuts, eggs, milk, cheese, beans and soybeans.
• Vitamin C is essential in maintaining healthy muscles, connective tissue, and skin. Look for vitamin C in citrus fruit, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes and green vegetables.
• Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Good sources include milk and other fortified dairy products, egg yolks and fish oil. The best source of vitamin D doesn't come from the diet — it's sunlight.
• Calcium helps build strong bones, which is important in growing children. Good sources include milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu and calcium-fortified foods such as orange juice.
• Iron is essential to healthy red blood cells and helps build muscle. Iron deficiency is a risk in adolescence, especially for girls once they begin to menstruate. Look for iron in cuts of beef and other red meats, turkey, pork, spinach, beans and prunes.
Megavitamins — large doses of vitamins — aren't a good idea for children. The fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K) can be toxic if kids overdose on excessive amounts. Ditto with iron. Your kids can get too much of a good thing.
Ask your doctor
If you have questions regarding vitamin supplements we suggest you talk to your family doctor or pediatrician and ask for their suggestions. Listen to what they have to say, then follow your own instincts. You know your children better than anyone.
Gary Lundberg is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Joy is a writer and lyricist. Together they author books on relationships, including "I Don't Have to Make Everything All Better". Their website is garyjoylundberg.com

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