Do kids need vitamins?

In today's over-scheduled and packaged-food world, some parents provide their children with a daily multivitamin as an "insurance policy" for proper growth, brain development and energy metabolism. But are these chewy, brightly coloured treats needed?

A 2012 paper issued by Health Canada states that the diets of most Canadian children (ages one to eight) provide adequate vitamins and minerals with the exception of calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is critical during childhood as it is required for the development of teeth and bones and works together with vitamin D and exercise to maintain bone health and strength throughout life.

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This same paper also noted that children may be becoming increasingly deficient in fibre and potassium. Potassium is one of the main blood minerals called electrolytes and is vital for the proper functioning of cells, tissues and organs. Luckily potassium is readily available along with fibre in leafy greens, beans, nuts and seeds.

What I believe to be true is that some of the nutrient deficiencies in children (and adults) are not always caused by a lack of consumption but by too much of something else. Many of the body's functions are maintained by a delicate balance of ingredients, so an excess of one can cause another to be over used.

For example, low calcium levels in a seemingly healthy child may be due more to an excess of sugar rather than a lack of calcium intake. The same can be true for potassium and fibre in relation to high-sodium, processed and refined foods, which provide little to no nutrient value and "cost" the body vitamins and minerals to be metabolized.

Which brings us back to the supplement question. Do our children need them?

First, speak with your doctor or other health care professional about your specific family needs.

Second, start adding. Add in high fibre, nutrient dense foods, water and outdoor activities. Get back to basics; eat foods in the form closest to the

way nature provides them. Whole foods contain vitamins and minerals in their natural packages and more and more research is showing that nutrients work best synergistically, so go with Mother Nature's packaging.

Children should have four servings of vegetables and two fruits each day. Carrot and celery sticks with cucumber slices and hummus, bean dip or nut butter for dipping stay well in a lunch box or are a great after-school snack.

Parents, be good role models. Plan, prepare and eat meals as a family, and be patient. As with any change, it may take a while for your kids (and you) to ask for seconds of salad, but it will happen.

Stir fries made with brown and wild rice, lean protein and lots of vegetables are quick, tasty and nutritious dinners and make great leftovers for lunchboxes the next day. There are also lots of gluten free pastas on the market these days (my personal favourite is the

quinoa pasta). Make a quick marinara sauce and sprinkle with a little cheese and you have a healthy version of a familiar family staple.

Plan activities outside. Health Canada also states that for one in five children their energy intake exceeds their energy needs. So get outside, walk, run, cycle or play. Use up the energy intake and get a good dose of vitamin D.

Families can get the nutrients they need when they follow a wellbalanced diet, including vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, nuts and seeds, and a healthy lifestyle with outdoor activities.

Note: Always consult with your physician or other health care professional regarding any dietary and/or supplemental changes or if you are concerned about your health.

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