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  • Writer's pictureDr Andy Raffles

Update on Vitamins

Multivitamins aren't an absolute necessity for most healthy children who are on a satisfactory balanced diet – and who eat without too much fuss, and who are growing normally.

Foods are the best source of nutrients for all children. Regular meals and snacks can provide all the nutrients most babies and toddlers need. However, a large proportion of young children aged under 5 years, are frequently on a diet based around dairy and processed foods, and this can lead to minor mineral or vitamin deficiencies and excessive fat intake.

While many young children are fussy eaters, that does not necessarily mean that they have nutritional deficiencies. Many common foods — including breakfast cereal, milk and orange juice — are fortified with important nutrients, such as B vitamins, vitamin D, calcium and iron; so your child may be getting more vitamins and minerals than you think.

Furthermore, multivitamins are not without some risks. Excessive doses of vitamins and minerals can be toxic. In addition, some vitamins and minerals can interact with medications your child may take.

In the UK there is a general recommendation that growing children, especially those who don't eat a varied diet, and who may not get enough vitamins A and C. to take a multivitamin supplement. 90% of our naturally occurring vitamin D is produced in response to exposure to sunlight, and it is difficult to get enough vitamin D through food alone.

That's why the Department of Health recommends that all children aged 6 months to 5 years are given vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D every day. This is only for children taking less than 500 mls (1 pint/ 20 fl oz) of formula per day.

It is also recommended that babies who are being breastfed be given a daily vitamin D-containing supplement from birth, whether you're taking a supplement containing vitamin D yourself (see Vitamin D article).

Babies who are having more than 500ml (about a pint/ 20 fl oz) of infant formula a day do not need, and should not be given, vitamin supplements. This is because formula is fortified with vitamin D and other vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

If you are choosing a multivitamin, choose one that is designed for your child's age group and doesn't provide more than 100 percent of the Daily Value of vitamins and minerals. For example the recommended dose of Vitamin D – 10 µ/day (equivalent to 400 IU) is now present in most, but not all standard baby vitamin drops. In addition, keep multivitamins out of your child's reach and make it clear that they aren't sweets.

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