Food and Nutrition

How to Choose the Best Daily Vitamin Supplement for Kids

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By Ashley Koff, RD

Ashley Koff is a registered dietitian (R.D.) who strives to make better nutrition a way of life for all. Her passionate style is effective, resulting in Koff being named by Citysearch as LA’s “Best Nutritionist” three years running and a national media favorite. Koff appears monthly on Good Morning America Health and as the lead expert for Huffington Post Living’s “Total Energy Makeover”, she was selected as Hollywood’s Dietitian, and is also an AOL wellness expert.

Start with a wish list: strong bones, focus, calmness, intelligence, healthy digestion, strong muscles, healthy weight, no headaches—I realize the list could go on and on, but this will do as a beginning.

What a supplement can offer is a way to balance out the nutrition from the day. Think of Tom Cruise’s famous line from Jerry Maguire (no, not “Show me the money!”)—“You complete me”—and you will see how a daily supplement can enhance your child’s nutrition regime. While organic farming is wonderful and nutrient dense, it still represents a very small portion of fruits and vegetables grown today; and that means that the vast amount of our nation’s soil, which has been chemically farmed for years, has lost nutrient value compared with previous decades. Thus, for optimal health, we can “supplement” these nutrients regardless of our children’s fruit and vegetable intake.

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So, back to the wish list. Can we deliver? Yes, here’s how:

1. Minerals: Make sure that you are getting sufficient magnesium to counterbalance supplemental and food intake of calcium. Magnesium creates the calmness—whether it’s mental or physical; magnesium turns off our stress response, allows our muscles to relax (which means all muscles, especially our digestive tract muscles), and is critical for strong bones, along with its partner, calcium. Potassium is also key, to counterbalance sodium for optimal hydration. Since we get sodium in the diet, and often too much, the need for potassium, like magnesium, is often supplemental.

2. Amino acids: We need all the essential ones to ensure hormone health (hormones are our messengers) as well as to build muscles and maintain a healthy weight. Sometimes a whole day can go by in which the protein-rich options were low quality or not liked by your child, or both. Thus, supplemental amino acids help prevent operating at a deficit with these important nutrients.

3. Organic fruits and vegetables: While the availability of these organic foods continues to increase (as demand does too—yeah!), they are still hardly ubiquitous. Thus, a supplement that provides organic fruits and vegetables can be a great addition to a day’s nutrition plan. For Ashley Koff Approved, I don’t approve of supplements that contain fruits and vegetables that aren’t organic. It doesn’t make sense, as studies are confirming what we know to be true: the chemicals used in chemical farming challenge the normal operating functions of the body—especially the young growing body.

4. Sugar: We definitely do not need to supplement (defined as “in addition to a healthy diet”) more sugar, even if it’s organic sugar. I am totally comfortable with modest consumption of nature’s organic sugar options: honey, molasses, stevia leaf, and nectars like agave and coconut. But these sugars should come primarily from the diet—not a supplement—to avoid confusing the body as well as a child’s mind (“How come my vitamins taste so much like candy?”).

5. How do you get children to take their supplements? If it’s a great product but they won’t consume it, there’s no gain, right? The first step is, of course, getting the children to take the supplement. This means it needs to be in a form that children will accept. It’s doubtful that pills and capsules will work that well with kids, as they can be hard to swallow. So that leaves gummies—which can get stuck in teeth, be confused with candy, and provide excess sugar—or something like a liquid. Keep in mind that all supplements have to dissolve (liquefy) before they can be absorbed, but liquids are already in that form. If you can provide something that tastes good either by itself or added to a cup of half juice/half water or a smoothie, the kids will take it.