Children's food supplements: Which ones REALLY work?
My kids have always been pretty healthy eaters.
That’s not to say their eyes don’t go out on sticks at the mere mention of chocolate cake, but overall they try their best to make healthy choices. We rarely get take-aways and fizzy drinks, jellies or fruit juice are normally off-limits, while veggies or fruit are offered with every meal.
In spite of their balanced diets, like so many other parents, I choose to supplement my children’s diets with high quality, sugar-free, scientifically tested formulations that have been shown to be beneficial for children’s health and proper development.
I’m not a big fan of the vast majority of ‘kiddie’ supplements as many of them are full of sugar or synthetic sweeteners. It’s important to do your research and try to get the highest quality product that you can find. Independent testing is helpful as it weeds out the products that might just be a poor imitation of another, more superior, well-crafted formulation.
Supplements are no substitute for your child eating a varied and balanced daily diet, but there are times when high quality supplementation should be considered, especially if your child has particular health concerns.
In recent years, a ton of research has been carried out on fish oils (EPA & DHA) and their benefits for the developing child’s brain. Getting the ‘good’ fats is especially important for kids on the autism spectrum, those with dyslexia or who have attention deficit disorder. The brain is made predominantly of fat, which is why it’s so crucial that these essential fats are included in the diet.
Many kids aren’t too keen on eating fish, especially not the oily kind (e.g. mackerel, salmon), which supply the fats you are looking for. Equally, it can be tricky to get kids to eat plant-based healthy fat sources, such as avocado, nuts, seeds, flax or chia seeds, which is why supplementation really makes sense.
Opt for third party/independently tested, high quality brands that use something like a natural lemon oil instead of a synthetic flavouring to cover the fishy taste. For kids, the best options are normally liquid drops, which may be taken off the spoon or added to smoothies to disguise the flavour.
Veggie kids needn’t be left out as there are now a number of high quality DHA and EPA supplements on the market that are derived from marine algae, which may be used instead of the fish oil derived products, if preferred.
When my daughter was born nearly eight years ago, not a word was mentioned to me about supplementing with Vitamin D. A few years later, when I had my son, baby Vitamin D drops were strongly recommended, as even for breast-feeding mums, stores of Vitamin D are unlikely to be enough for you and your baby.
What I find interesting is that in spite of the expanding body of research on the benefits of Vitamin D, there is very little advice offered to parents on whether or not to supplement children beyond the baby weaning stage.
Contrary to popular belief, children (as well as adults) cannot get sufficient quantities of Vitamin D from food and in the absence of some proper sunshine (anyone know where the summer went?) it’s nearly impossible to make Vitamin D within the skin cells, so supplements become a necessity, rather than a luxury.
Again, just like the fish oil, drops are the ideal delivery method and should micellised with oil as Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient, so it needs fat in order to be absorbed properly by the body.
The dosage range is 1,000 per day for up to one year old and 2,000-2,500iu per day for one to eight-year-olds. Some fish oil formulations supply Vitamin D along with the fish oil, which is handy as it means you can only have to buy one product.
I don’t think I’ve ever met a parent who hasn’t seen problems with their child’s gut at one point or another. Whether it’s colic as a baby, the vomiting bug, diarrhoea due to taking antibiotics, food intolerance or constipation due to a low fibre diet, it’s safe to say that the digestive system can cause all sorts of problems for our little ones.
As a culture, we don’t really have a traditional dish that includes fermented foods to supply naturally derived bacteria that exist within our environment e.g. sauerkraut in Eastern Europe or Kim-chi (fermented, spicy cabbage) from Korea. Natural yogurt is as good as it gets and even then, it’s difficult to avoid the high sugar, heavily advertised yogurt drinks that are supposed to support your child’s gut health.
I prefer to know exactly what my child is getting, which is why I opt for high quality, powdered probiotic supplements that are easy to add to drinks or smoothies to support my kids gut health.
The gut health is where most of the body’s immune system resides, so by helping their gut, you may prevent your kids from getting sick.
Certain strains have been studied for particular symptoms. For example. L.Rhamnosus, has particular benefits for kids experiencing acute diarrhoea.
Generally speaking, for kids under the age of two, a probiotic that includes Bifidobacterium Infantis is most important, while older kids, would benefit from a more comprehensive assortment of bacterial strains, including L. Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium.
Jessica Bourke is a Natural Fertility Specialist, who deals with all aspects of reproductive health. Her clinical approach is based on evidence-based nutrition protocols, acupuncture treatment, and she also offers functional lab tests to support you on your journey to parenthood. She's a regular contributor to Irish media and co-author of the 'Guilt Free Gourmet' cook-book. As a Mum of two, Jessica understands the challenges of pregnancy and parenting. For more, visit jessicabourke.com.