Most 6-year-olds will choose a cookie over cauliflower any day. Thankfully, if you can’t get kids to eat their fruit and veggie quotas, nutrition experts agree that a high-quality children’s multivitamin can provide important missing nutrients for developing brains and bodies. But do children need other supplements? In most cases, the answer is yes. Here are natural experts’ top picks to support healthy, growing kids.
Most multis for children provide less than 100 mg calcium, far short of the recommended daily intake (1,000 mg for ages 4 to 8; 1,300 mg for age 9 and older).
If your children eat dairy or fortified foods (soy milk, orange juice, tofu), they may be getting plenty. If not, consider giving them supplements with calcium as well as magnesium and vitamin D, which growing bones need to absorb calcium.
Dose: In addition to a daily multivitamin, take 200 mg calcium and 400–600 IU vitamin D3. (Some multivitamins contain these amounts.)
Try: Now Kid Cal chewables
It’s harder for most kids to get enough magnesium from foods (dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, whole grains) than it is to get calcium, so it’s equally if not more important to supplement, says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, medical director of the Nutritional Magnesium Association. Beyond bones, magnesium supports muscle and nerve function. It also can improve kids’ sleep, mood, and regularity, she says. Low magnesium levels have been linked to ADHD and hyperactivity.
Dose: Up to 100 mg magnesium in the morning and evening daily. Powdered or liquid magnesium supplements can be a good way to tailor dose to individual needs.
Try: Natural Vitality Kids Natural Calm Multi
Unless your child is eating three or more servings a week of fatty fish (salmon, sardines, tuna), he likely needs fish oil. EPA and DHA, the omega-3 essential fatty acids in fish oil, are critical for development and healthy function of the eyes and brain, and they reduce the risk of aggression, depression, and ADHD in kids. Omega-3s also help prevent and treat allergies and asthma, says Dean.
Dose: Children over age 4 need about 250 mg DHA and 180 mg EPA daily; teens need about 500 mg DHA and 365 mg EPA. Choose a high-quality, citrus-flavored fish oil or cod-liver oil, in liquid, softgel, or gummy form. If your child is vegetarian, look for an algae-sourced DHA-EPA product.
Try: Coromega Kids Omega3 Squeeze; Nordic Naturals Algae Omega
These friendly gut bacteria improve digestion, ease constipation, and support the immune system. Children in day-care centers who take probiotics, for instance, get fewer colds and ear infections. Kids can get probiotics from eating yogurt, but the high sugar content in flavored yogurts diminishes the benefits. Use supplements to boost immunity anytime, especially during and after taking antibiotics.
Dose: 10 billion CFU or more daily, as needed.
Try: Culturelle Probiotics for Kids
Although the body makes this vitamin—actually a hormone—when you’re in the sun, most kids (and adults) aren’t getting enough. Milk is often fortified, but with less effective synthetic vitamin D2, Dean says. Found naturally in fish, eggs, and cod-liver oil, D3 is critical for immunity and bone health.
Dose: 400–2,000 IU daily. The Institute of Medicine recently doubled its recommendation for children to 400 IU daily, but many kids may need more, says Robert Rountree, MD, Delicious Living’s medical editor.
Try: Carlson Super Daily D3 for Baby
Another building block for a healthy immune system, this trace mineral also supports the senses of taste and smell. (Parent alert: Picky eaters who crave sugar may be deficient.) It’s essential for sexual development at puberty. If your children don’t eat a lot of zinc-rich red meat, they may need a bit more. (Chicken and beans are also good sources.)
Dose: 2–4 mg of a chelated form, such as zinc gluconate. Or look for a multimineral liquid that includes calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
Try: ChildLife Multi Vitamin & Mineral liquid
It’s a good idea to talk to your health care provider before starting a new supplement.