Vitamin Deficiency— Does Your Child Need Supplements?

Vitamins are essential to good health, but what — and how much — should your child be taking? Get the facts behind six myths about vitamin supplements.

A look at the shelves in the pharmacy often reveals a bewildering range of vitamin supplements available on the market. Which one should you give to your child? But wait, does he even need it in the first place?

We unpack the facts and fallacies of vitamins, right here:

Do You Need Vitamins to Stay Healthy?

Vitamins allow your body to grow and develop. B vitamins such as thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin and pantothenic acid, as well as biotin,  are required to release energy from food, providing fuel for you to go about your daily activities. As children grow older, their requirements for this group of vitamins increase to help them cope with more energetic lifestyles. Inadequate intake of vitamins B and C can lead to anaemia, which may result in tiredness and lethargy.

Is More Always Better?

Vitamins are essential for growth as well as the normal functioning of our bodies. However, too much of anything can be dangerous — even water. Overdosing on vitamin supplements, especially fat-soluble vitamins A and D, can lead to serious health effects such as liver damage, bone loss and hair loss, and symptoms of toxicity including headaches, joint pains and kidney and heart damage.  

Consult a dietician and refer to the Health Promotion Board’s Recommended Daily Allowances  (RDAs) to ensure that your child is getting the right amount of nutrients through vitamin supplements.

Should You Get Your Vitamins from Food Only?

Technically, vitamins that are found in food work the same as synthetic vitamins in supplements and pills. However, getting your vitamins from food is preferred because they are usually packaged with other beneficial compounds like fibre and phytonutrients in foods such as fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Certain vitamins such as vitamin B12 are best obtained from food. In this instance, if your child consumes eggs, milk and dairy products, as well as yeast extracts like vegemite or marmite, he may not require a supplement. You can also give him vitamin B12-fortified food like fortified infant soy formula or fortified breakfast cereals.

Are Vegetables the Only Source of Vitamins?

Vegetables are good sources of vitamins, but they are not the only source. Very often, fruits can supply the same types and amounts of vitamins as vegetables. For example, vitamin A can be found in red or orange fruits such as papaya and mango, vitamin C in citrus fruits, papaya and strawberries, and folic acid in oranges and honeydew.

Moreover, vegetables may not be good sources of certain types of vitamins such as vitamin B, D and E. Other food groups like breads and cereals, milk and dairy products, meat and alternatives, and fats and oils contain higher concentrations of these vitamins.

Do Oranges Cause Asthma and Excessive Phlegm?

Contrary to popular belief, oranges have not been proven to cause asthma or increase the production of phlegm. However, your child may be sensitive to the sour taste of oranges and this may precipitate an asthma attack.

In such cases, you can ensure that your child meets his vitamin C requirements by giving him other fruits or fruit juices, and two servings of vegetables per day . Fruits like guava, strawberry, honeydew melon and kiwi, and vegetables like broccoli, spinach, cauliflower and cabbage are especially high in vitamin C . But remember, Vitamin C is easily destroyed by heat and exposure to air. Be sure to cut your fruit and vegetables just before eating them, and lightly cook your vegetables.

Does Outdoor Play Increase Your Vitamin D Intake?

Vitamin D is essential for our body’s absorption of calcium, and our skin manufactures this vitamin in the presence of sunlight. As such, it is good to let your child play outdoors daily for at least 15 minutes during the day to supplement his intake of vitamin D from food sources. Apart from fortified milk, vitamin D can also be found in liver, fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel, egg yolk and fortified cereals.

How Can I Prevent Vitamin Deficiency?

The rule of thumb is to first ensure that your child gets his nutrients through food sources. In instances where certain vitamins are lacking from the diet, you can then look to supplements. A growing child's daily diet should provide an adequate supply of vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K and folic acid.

To safeguard your child against vitamin deficiency, refer to the table below for some guidelines.

If you are still concerned that your child is not getting adequate vitamins from his daily diet, consult your paediatrician about prescribing a paediatric multivitamin supplement. Do remember that supplements should not be used as a substitute for a healthy and balanced diet.

However, if your child is on a special diet because of, say, food allergies or intolerances, specific vitamin supplements may be needed. Check with your paediatrician or the dietitian regarding which ones to give.

Types of Vitamins
Food Sources
Vitamin C​Daily intake of fresh fruit or pure juice from fruits, including oranges, kiwis and honeydew​
Vitamins A, E, K and folic acid ​Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, and red or orange vegetables or fruits such as carrots, tomatoes and mangoes, eaten at least every other day ​
Thiamine and riboflavin​Daily intake of cereal or grain products (preferably containing unrefined riboflavin), including brown rice, oats, barley, breakfast cereals, muesli, wholemeal bread/biscuits​
Vitamin B​Daily intake of meat, fish, chicken, liver, egg, milk or cheese. If your child is a vegetarian, substitute these with beans and bean products such as baked beans, chickpeas or dahl​
Vitamins A, D and riboflavin​Include milk, and dairy and riboflavin products, in your child's diet. Milk is one of the best dietary sources of riboflavin, vitamin A and, if fortified, vitamin D​
Vitamin E​Add some oil, margarine, nuts and seeds to your child's diet as they are good sources of vitamin E​

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