Herbfacts

The top food supplements for children

Try as we might, it is not always easy to get children to eat a balanced diet.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her five top food supplements that all children can benefit from taking. 

The recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey highlighted that only 8% of children aged 11 to 18 years met the 5-a-day recommendation for fruit and vegetable consumption. It also found that the average consumption of oily fish by children of all ages was well below the recommended one portion per week.

Supplementation can really help as a top up to the daily diet and ensures your children are getting all the essential nutrients they need to support their growth and overall health. But which ones are the most important?

VITAMIN D

The Scientific Advisory Council to the Government has finally acknowledged that as a nation we are a vitamin D deficient and that supplementation is advisable from one year and upwards. Vitamin D is produced on the skin in the presence of sunlight, so this means we are deficient for much of the year and, although the body can store some vitamin D, it’s not sufficient for the body’s needs year-round.

Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, muscles, teeth and the immune system; the recommendation is to take a minimum of 10 micrograms (mcg) daily.

MULTIVITAMINS

Taking a good quality, well-balanced multivitamin formulation is almost like taking out an insurance policy for future health! The body needs a minimum of 40 nutrients every day, and despite all good intentions it’s unlikely that children will be getting everything they need – even less likely if they are faddy eaters!

Many essential nutrients, particularly trace minerals, are found in green, leafy vegetables, which of course many children just don’t like.  While we should never stop encouraging them to eat a balanced and colourful a diet, packed full of fruit and vegetables, giving them a good quality, daily multivitamin just provides peace of mind that they’re getting what they need.

OMEGA 3 FATS

These are also known as essential fats (EFAs), and for very good reason; the body can’t make them so they need to be eaten every day.  Omega 3’s are found in fish oil or flax oil (particularly good for vegetarians) are essential for the skin, brain, hormones and eyes.  Indeed, the likelihood of learning difficulties and behavioural problems has been found to be heightened in children who lack omega 3’s.

Although the government guidelines recommend only one portion per week, ideally we should be eating oily fish (such as anchovies, mackerel, herring, pilchards, salmon and sardines) three times a week for greatest benefits. Because this is unlikely, it is very important for children to be taking a daily supplement, ideally one containing some EPA and DHA  (or omega-3 flax oil for vegetarians).

PROBIOTICS

Known as ‘friendly flora’ or ’friendly bacteria, the human intestinal tract is filled with bacteria, some good and some bad.  It goes without saying that we need to have more good than bad, and when we get an imbalance, many kinds of digestive upsets can occur. This imbalance can also effect the immune system.

High sugar diets can really upset the balance in the gut, plus many children naturally have an imbalance from birth.  This can be easily corrected with a course of age-specific probiotics; eating live yoghurt alone is not enough and it generally doesn’t provide the most prevalent or ‘resident’ strains present in the digestive tract.

CALCIUM

Peak bone density is reached in early adulthood, but the mineral calcium is essential during the early years of bone development.  Calcium is our key bone-building mineral with around 80% being stored in the bones themselves.   However, it can only do its work when there’s sufficient vitamin D so the two make a great combination, particularly in terms of supplementation.

Dairy products are a great source of calcium, but with more and more children not able to tolerate dairy, their natural intake of calcium may be reduced. Any child with asthma, eczema or hay fever should be reducing their intake of dairy because it causes more inflammation and encourages the production of mucous. Therefore, taking a calcium supplement or a multivitamin and mineral containing calcium is a good way of ensuring they are getting enough.