How to safely integrate supplements into diets for children

Experts help parents use supplements to assist children

DETROIT – One of the toughest battles parents face is dealing with picky eaters and making sure children get the nutrition they need.

Could supplements be the answer? Local 4 spoke with an expert about what parents should consider before taking that route.

Experts said more and more parents are trying to boost their child's health by turning to supplements, but unless the child falls into some specific categories, it can do more harm than good.

"I would say there's about five categories of kids who would really benefit from a supplement," registered dietitian Julie Feldman said.

Feldman is an expert when it comes to picky eaters. She said if there's one at your kitchen table, a supplement is a good idea.

"If you have a child who's not even getting adequate amounts of food into their diet at a particular time in their development, we're going to want to use a supplement for that, like a multivitamin," Feldman said.

If your child isn't a picky eater but has a restricted diet for some reason, they may also belong to a group that could use a vitamin boost.

"Whether it's for food allergies, celiac disease, lactose intolerant, anytime we're cutting out major food groups or major sources of nutrients, we're going to want to make sure we're supplementing those things," Feldman said. "If I have a child who's lactose intolerant, chances are they are not getting enough calcium unless I'm really conscious making sure they are.

"I"m also looking at someone who's vegan or vegetarian, potentially missing out on some key nutrients, and I have a lot of teen clients who are trying to be vegan or vegetarian. We want to make sure we're focusing on their micro-nutrition intake in that population."

Feldman said in most cases, children who play sports have higher nutrition needs than children who don't. She said supplements can do more harm than good if parents don't pay attention to the right doses.

"Kids and adults can become toxic in vitamin supplements, especially the gummies," Feldman said. "Kids tend to like them. They think they're candy. It's really to eat them, eat them, eat them, and that can be very dangerous. We can develop vitamin toxicity at pretty (low) levels, actually, so you want to be diligent about that. The supplement is only intended to do exactly that: supplement our diet."

Parents also have to be aware of who's making the type of supplements they're giving their children and where they buy them.

"Vitamins are not regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the same way that we can sort of trust our food supply," Feldman said. "Also, claims on those vitamins are not regulated by anybody. So just because the vitamin says it's going to boost my eye health or it's going to boost my brain health, there's nothing in that that's actually been tested or proven in order for a company to say that."

Experts said parents should look for a reputable brand instead of an off-brand or generic vitamin, even if it means you'll pay more. Look for a company with a recognizable name or a USP badge on the bottle, which proves the supplement is the real deal.

Parents should remember that they often have to tweak what they give their children, depending on the time of year.

"I always like supplementing a little bit extra vitamin C in the winter -- colder, flu season -- because it really boosts our immune function," Feldman said.

Experts said people with darker skin don't get as much benefit from sunlight in terms of vitamin D, so they might want to add a vitamin D supplement to their diet.

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