At least once a week, someone asks me what kids' multivitamins I recommend. The short answer: none. I don't give my kids multivitamins, and I don't recommend them for my patients' kids.
Before you assume that I think kids should be eating big plates of steamed greens at every meal, take a peek at the pics below of my kids indulging in a cupcake with green frosting and the remains of homemade marshmallows. I've got more photos like this, I promise.
While my kids don't eat a perfect diet, I don't count on multivitamins to be their nutritional saving grace either. Why?
10 Reasons I don't Give My Kids Multivitamins
#1 – Multivitamins are poorly absorbed – especially by children.
According to this great post by Mommypotamus, as few as 9% of nutrients listed on vitamin labels may be absorbed. This is in part because the vitamins contain synthetic hydrogenated fats know as stearates, which actually decrease the absorption of nutrients and are, themselves, toxic. (source)
Furthermore, despite scientists' best efforts, synthetic nutrients are not easily recognized by the body, and often require co-factors (not present in the multi-vitamin) or a conversion process that kids' bodies aren't always great at completing. For example, the body needs fat and fat-soluble vitamins to best utilize calcium and distribute it to teeth and bones.
So, essentially those gummy vitamins are pointless bits of candy. Got all natural ones? Then you've spent your money on all natural candy. Not my thing.
#2 – Children don't need as many veggies as you may think.
I know that this is blasphemy to modern nutritionists, but thank goodness it's true.
Every wonder why most kids just don't have a taste for green beans or beets? According to the wisdom of ancient Chinese medicine, kids are born with weak digestion, and do best with easy-to-digest foods. Especially when raw, fibrous vegetables are difficult to digest and act more as cleansing elements than nutritional boosters.
Adults on the other hand are generally more stressed, more sedentary, and ingest more toxins (medications, alcohol, caffeine, etc) than kids, which is why grown-ups can usually benefit from more veggies on a daily basis as a gentle detox.
Because of this, I don't worry about my kids getting enough veggies or needing a supplement to make up for their lack of greens.
#3 – My kids eat bone broth.
One of the best ways to nourish children is by infusing their little bodies with soups, stew, and sauces made from homemade bone broth. While bone broth may sound medieval, it is actually just soup stock made with the bones and is the key ingredient in meals from grandmas' chicken soups to the most delicious gravies.
Not only is bone broth easy to digest, it is loaded with minerals, gelatin, and glycosaminoglycans (which include substances like chondroitin and glucosamine, keratin and hyaluronic acid, and more). These nutrients benefit skin, teeth, bones, hair, nails, and joints.
Bone broth is also a rich source of minerals including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulfur and other trace minerals that are vital for a child's growth and development.
Sometimes my kids are funny about soup, so then I cook rice or quinoa with my bone broth and top with with butter. Voila – rice becomes a superfood. (Read more about making bone broth here.) Want the health benefits of bone broth, but don't want to make your own? Buy bone broth online here.
#4 – My kids eat lots of butter, milk, and cream from grass fed cows.
Not only good because of the calcium and protein content, dairy from pasture-raised animals provides growing kids with essential fat soluble vitamins D and K2, nutrients that are in minuscule quantities or non-existent in kids' multivitamins but are necessary for good health and development.
Before you start pouring your little ones skim milk or even reduced fat, consider that they need fat and cholesterol for nearly every function in their bodies. Non-fat and low-fat products cheat kids of essential nutrition that they need to thrive. Read more about why to skip skim milk here.
When it comes to grass fed dairy for my kids, I set no limit. Want to eat butter straight? Fine by me. Want cream in your milk? Great. I'm counting on these nutrients to grow my kids strong and robust.
#5 – My kids eat liver.
Sure, it's tucked away in meatloaf, Bolognese, cod liver oil, and other unsuspected spots, but nonetheless, my three and six year olds consume liver at least once per week, if not more. Liver is the best source of true vitamin A, which is required for brain and nervous system development, eye and skin health, immune function, and bone metabolism.
Multivitamins turn out a big zero when it comes to true vitamin A. Supplements for kids and adults alike rely on carotene to supply vitamin A, but carotene is only a precursor, and the body's conversion from carotene to vitamin A isn't very efficient, taking an average of 8 units of carotene to make one unit of vitamin A. (source)
On top of this, babies and kids are notoriously poor converters of carotene to vitamin A. Finally, the conversion can only take place in the presence of bile salts which are secreted in the presence of fat – hence a low fat diet with multivitamins means you're practically devoid of vitamin A.
Cod liver oil (the one I get my kids is here) is my secret vitamin A weapon, so when liver dishes haven't graced my table, I give my kids a bit extra cod liver oil that week. (Read more about the benefits of cod liver oil here.) Finally, this is a great post on how to get your kids to actually take it.
#6 – Junk foods aren't staples in our house.
I'm the first to admit that we are not strict about eating healthy. When my kids go to parties or play dates, I encourage them to eat whatever is being offered if it appeals to them – after all, eating is as much of a social experience as a nutritional one. Weekly, we walk to our local cafe and the kids pick out croissants, muffins, or cookies (not organic – gasp!). And often at restaurants, desserts happen.
BUT, our home is our sanctuary for eating REAL, nutrient-dense foods. We don't stock the house with store-bought cereals, cookies, or frozen foods. When these foods aren't at hand, it isn't convenient to serve them. One thing I've learned: when kids are hungry, they'll eventually eat what you give them.
#7 – My kids eat lots of seasonally fresh, organic fruit.
My kids go cuckoo for fruit, and thankfully it arrives in abundance in our farm box each week. Though their veggie palates are limited to raw carrots, bits of broccoli crowns, and the occasional salad, they will devour pretty much any fruit that comes through the door. Right now they are finishing off plums, peaches, nectarines, berries, and melon.
Fresh, seasonal, and local fruit provides my small humans with extra vitamins and minerals, and since they're raw, important enzymes that are integral to cellular metabolism (a.k.a. life).
#8 – My kids take cod liver oil in the winter and fish oil in the summer.
Fish oil is the only supplement that I give my kids on a regular basis. Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which reduces inflammation in all cells of the body and is essential for brain and nervous system function.
In the winter when the sun is scarce and colds and flu are running rampant, I opt for fermented cod liver oil (given with elderberry syrup to both mask the flavor and boost immunity) to supply vitamin D and A to support immune health.
#9 – I fortify my kids' digestion with probiotics.
If they need extra probiotics (too many birthday parties or feeling under the weather), I have a good kids probiotic supplement on hand to.
#10 – I can always pick and choose quality supplements if necessary.
Listen, I'm not anti-vitamin, I just don't see the point is cramming a whole bunch of practically useless nutrition into a bunch of sugar gummy bears and using that as an excuse to let your kids live off of goldfish crackers, fluorescent colored ‘yogurt', and cereal.
Real food is delicious and kids love it. Eggs, bacon, sourdough bread and butter, even mac-n-cheese, hot dogs, and PB&J can be healthy when you choose good quality meat and dairy, and properly prepared nuts and grains.
Now, if my little ones get a runny nose or decide to boycott milk, I can certainly choose to add some vitamin C or a calcium supplement. But for the day-to-day, I'm serving my kids nutrition on the plate–not in the pill.
How about you?
Do you give YOUR kids multivitamins?