Opinion

Timi Gustafson | Can I give my children too many vitamins?

Q: I give my three children, age 10, 13 and 15, multivitamin supplements every day. Recently I read that an extra dose of vitamins may not be necessary and could even be harmful for youngsters that age. What do you recommend?

Dear Reader,

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients our bodies need at any age – and especially children who are still growing. They regulate bodily functions, generate energy, balance our body fluids etc., etc. They don’t have any calories and are only needed in small quantities. Overdosing on water-soluble vitamins – Vitamin C and B-Complex) is practically impossible. Excessive amounts pass through the system and are eliminated through the urine without any harm.

Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), on the other hand, are stored in fat cells and can build up to toxic levels if consumed in large doses over extended periods of time. The concentrated presence of some vitamins can also interfere with the absorption of others. Other than that, your best bet is to give your kids a multivitamin/mineral supplement with no more than 100% of the recommended daily intake.

Some parents may mistakenly think that giving their kids a multivitamin pill will make up for deficiencies in their diet. As well-intended as that may be, it cannot be a substitute for an otherwise lousy diet.

The best source for a sufficient supply of vitamins and minerals is always a balanced diet that includes fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and protein – not pills. Of course, some kids can be fussy eaters. In such cases, vitamin supplements can indeed be helpful.

My recommendation is that you continue giving your children a daily dose of multivitamin supplements as prescribed – but don’t hesitate to consult with your pediatrician if you have any lingering doubts based on the information you’re getting from elsewhere.

Q: My 2-year-old son has been diagnosed with multiple food allergies, that require the exclusion of peanuts, most dairy products and certain fruits from his diet. I’m concerned that he does not receive all the nutrients he needs to grow up and be healthy. What can I do to optimize his diet while managing his allergies?

Dear Reader,

You are not the only parent facing this dilemma. There are more than 3 million children in this country who suffer from food allergies and, according to the Center for Disease Control, the numbers are rising. Allergies to nuts, milk and shellfish are the most common, but certain meats, rice, corn and even wheat are also found to be intolerable for an ever-increasing number of young people.

There are many theories why this is happening. Among others, one possible reason may be that the diagnosis of food allergies itself is wanting. Most allergies are diagnosed by a blood test to determine the presence of antibodies which the body builds as a reaction to certain foods. However, a blood test that finds allergies to particular food items does not necessarily determine the extension of the allergies it detects.

The reason is that similar proteins exist in different foods which are indistinguishable through a simple blood test. Consequently, children who test positive for allergies to peanuts may also test positive for soy or beans; allergies to milk may also show allergies to beef, etc.

A better way to diagnose food allergies would be to have your child try foods that may be “suspicious” but have not yet been proven to cause allergic reactions – under the supervision of a doctor or allergist. Keep in mind that some allergies may worsen if children are overprotected from certain foods and then develop a higher sensitization than they would have with normal exposure. Many allergies are not lifetime conditions. Some become more tolerable in limited amounts, some can be outgrown altogether with age.

In the case of your child, I would recommend that you have additional allergies tests done if the diagnosis to date has only been based on blood tests.

Timi Gustafson is the author of “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun.” Find more tips for a healthy lifestyle that fits your personality in her book which is available at local bookstores, at www.amazon.com and at www.thehealthydiner.com. You may also receive her monthly newsletter per request at timi@thehealthydiner.com.

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