Vitamins Are Expensive: Are They Worth It?
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A proper diet for you and your kids is key; vitamins, not so much
Those cute little chewable vitamins can be yet another source of Solo-Mom guilt. But do your kids really need them? No, they probably don’t, and avoiding them may even be a good thing. We don’t necessarily know what is in a vitamin, mineral, or supplement in pill form. Plus, a bottle of those pills can cost quite a bit. Supplements can also be toxic in large doses or interact with medications your child may take. Here’s how to make sure your kids get the nutrition they need—without risking their health or your wallet.
Be a foodie
Do kids need essential vitamins and minerals? Of course, but teach them how to be foodies to get the macro- and micronutrients they need from the foods they eat. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Penguin, 2007) and several other critically acclaimed books on the food industry in America, says it best: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” It’s that simple. If your kids eat foods in their most natural state and stay away from processed foods, they will get all the vitamins and minerals they need. The processing of foods strips the food of its natural, healthy state. For example, refined and enriched bread simply means they took the natural wheat, stripped it of its color and healthy properties, and chemically added so-called nutrients so that it is “enriched” with vitamins. Had it been left in its natural state, it would possess more essential vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber, and it would be metabolized and processed more efficiently because it is recognized by the body.
What are the elements of a healthy diet?
Most kids can get everything they need from their food. So what needs to be in a balanced and healthy diet? WebMD offers the following recommendations:
- Milk and dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt (preferably low-fat products for kids over age three)
- Plenty of fresh fruits and leafy, green vegetables
- Protein, such as chicken, fish, meat, and eggs
- Whole grains, such as steel-cut oats and brown rice
Be sure your kids’ diets include the following nutrients (preferably from food):
- Vitamin A promotes normal growth and development; tissue and bone repair; and healthy skin, eyes, and immune responses. Good sources include milk, cheese, eggs, and yellow-to-orange vegetables, such as carrots, yams, and squash.
- The family of B vitamins—B2, B3, B6, and B12—aid metabolism, energy production, and healthy circulatory and nervous systems. Good sources include meat, chicken, fish, nuts, eggs, milk, cheese, beans, and soybeans.
- Vitamin C promotes healthy muscles, connective tissue, and skin. Good sources include citrus fruit, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes, and green vegetables such as broccoli.
- Vitamin D promotes bone and tooth formation and helps the body absorb calcium. Good sources include milk, other dairy products, and fish oil. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight.
- Calcium helps build strong bones as a child grows. Good sources include milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu, and calcium-fortified orange juice.
- Iron builds muscle and is essential to healthy red blood cells. Iron deficiency is a risk in adolescence, especially for girls once they begin to menstruate. Good sources include beef, other red meats, turkey, pork, spinach, beans, and prunes.
The FDA does not regulate the vitamin and supplement industry
According to a recent article in Time magazine, the $5 billion dollar vitamin and supplement industry, which is not regulated by the FDA, reaps profits from products that may not even contain what is on their label. We, as adults, are all being fooled, so we need to educate ourselves and help our kids.
In 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act was passed under the Clinton administration. This law protects vitamins and supplements from the scrutiny and approval given to other drugs. “I could pretty much create something this afternoon in my kitchen and sell it and not have to do any kind of testing ahead of time,” says Catherine Price, author of Vitamania (Penguin Press, 2015), a book about the vitamin and supplement industry.
If you would like more information, read the FDA’s Q&A on dietary supplements.
Do my kids need a multivitamin?
Ask your doctor. Your pediatrician will know best what to recommend for your child. There are always situations and/or health issues that need special consideration, for example, kids who are taking medication, have a chronic disease (such as asthma) or food allergy, kids who are very active, or kids who drink carbonated beverages (that may leach vitamins from the body). In that case, your pediatrician can make recommendations.
If your child’s doctor does recommend a multivitamin, choose one that is appropriate for your child’s age group and doesn’t provide more than 100% of the daily value of vitamins and minerals. Keep chewables and gummies out of reach of small children, and tell them they are not candy. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Skip the brand names; the generic variety is just fine.
So, the next time you are in the grocery store, you can likely skip the vitamin aisle. Spend your time in the produce aisle shopping for a rainbow of fresh and local (when possible) fruits and vegetables. Solo Moms need their energy, too. Be sure to follow these recommendations so you—as well as your kids—are getting all your essential dietary needs.
We leave you with some food for thought—another Michael Pollan quote: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”
Debi Conocenti has been keeping people fit and healthy for more than 20 years. A developer of corporate health, fitness, and wellness programs, she stays active with her two sons and English sheepdogs.
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