Nutritional supplements are playing an increasing role in helping to ensure optimum nutrition. It is important to understand the role they play in supporting good health. This is especially the case when it comes to our children. Parents need to evaluate what is best for their kid’s needs. Andrea du Plessis shares what you need to know.
As health professionals and parents we want to make sure we are making the correct choices and recommendations for the health care of the next generation. The inclusion of nutritional supplements in our children’s diet may raise some of the following pertinent questions:
- Are nutritional supplements essential?
- Can we rely on food to provide optimum nutrition?
- Are supplements safe?
- How do you identify quality supplements?
- Are supplements a sensible way of optimising nutritional intake?
- Do they encourage complacency and unhealthy eating habits?
- When and how should supplements be taken?
Are nutritional supplements essential?
The nutritional requirements of babies and young children are naturally increased to support the growth and developmental phases they go through. Most parents choose nutritional supplements that they believe would best serve these increased nutritional demands. However, can we rely on food alone to provide our bodies with optimum nutrition? A recent report suggests that we are far from achieving our nutritional objectives.
A survey done across America (USA), Britain (UK) and Western Europe revealed some shocking dietary inadequacies:
- Vitamin A: 75% of people do not achieve the recommended intake. 25-75% of people do not achieve the recommended intake in the UK and the Netherlands.
- B-vitamins: 25-75% of people do not achieve the recommended intake in the USA, UK, Germany and Netherlands.
- Folic acid: 75% of people do not achieve the recommended intake in Germany and Netherlands.
- Vitamin C: 25-75% of people do not achieve the recommended intake in the USA, Germany and Netherlands.
- Vitamin D: 75% of people do not achieve the recommended intake in Germany and the UK.
25-75% of people do not achieve the recommended intakes in the Netherlands.
- Vitamin E: 75% of people do not achieve the recommended intake in the USA and the UK.
25-75% of people do not achieve the recommended intake in Germany and Netherlands.
- Calcium (results from another survey). In the USA 10% of boys and 25% of girls do not even achieve 50% of their adequate intake for calcium, an essential bone building mineral.
These nutritional inadequacies are alarming, especially considering these are communities where nutritious foods are for the most part easily accessible, and where many processed foods are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. All these nutrients play key roles in the growth and development of young children. It is frightful to think what the nutrient intake across South Africa may look like, especially with the very high consumption of refined starches, fats and sugar from very popular and low cost potato chips, puffed maize crisps and sweetened soft drinks.
Can we rely on food to provide optimum nutrition?
The recommendation to eat five portions of fresh fruit and or vegetables per day makes most people feel more than slightly uncomfortable, as this is not easily achieved. The most shocking fact to consider with this recommendation is that even with five portions per day it is not likely to provide optimum nutrition.
This leaves most mothers feeling disheartened, especially those that work hard and succeed at incorporating pureed vegetables into their family’s favourite spaghetti bolognaise, stews and soups. If it is so unrealistic to get to this goal of five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, how can our bodies naturally need so much?
Tests on the nutritional concentration of fruits and vegetables indicate a decline in vitamins and minerals. Contributing factors to this include food processing, depletion of soil nutrients, prolonged storage of fruits and vegetables and manipulation through temperature and hormone control.
Did you know? A recent survey showed that only one in five people eat the recommended five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables per day.
Are supplements safe?
Multivitamins are generally safe as they contain small quantities of a variety of essential vitamins and minerals. It is highly unlikely to ingest excessive doses of individual nutrients by taking a multivitamin daily, and this certainly won’t be the case if you follow the dosage instructions.
Can multivitamins substitute a healthy balanced diet?
No, multivitamins cannot replace a healthy diet. Multivitamins aim to supplement or “top up” our diet, as they contain small amounts of different essential nutrients, which are naturally found in our foods. Unprocessed and natural foods contain many nutrients that are not found in sufficient quantities in multivitamins, this includes dietary fibre, protein, carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, antioxidants and various other components.
Who needs supplementation?
Certain groups of people are particularly vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies this may be because they have increased requirements or dietary restrictions:
- Infants: During the rapid growth phases, infants need as many nutrients as possible so they can optimise growth and development.
- Food allergies or intolerances: Dietary restrictions due to food allergies or intolerances, such as lactose (dairy) intolerance or wheat sensitivities, may result in a deficiency of essential nutrients.
- Learning difficulties: Children with learning difficulties can benefit from taking omega 3 fatty acids and other nutrients that support the development of the brain and nervous system.
- Adolescents: Adolescents have increased nutritional requirements during their rapid growth phases, as well as to maintain physical activity.
- Chronically ill: Requirements for many nutrients are increased during illnesses due to altered metabolism and possibly diet restrictions.
What should be supplemented?
Do supplements provide a sensible way of optimising nutritional intake? Or do they encourage complacency and unhealthy eating habits? This is an important aspect to consider, as research has shown supplementation cannot replace the total nutritional value of a healthy balanced diet. The role of supplements in a healthy diet should be established early in a child’s life, as healthy eating habits should be encouraged.
- Multivitamins provide a wide spectrum of essential vitamins and minerals to help optimise nutrition.
- Omega 3 fatty acids. It is difficult to obtain sufficient levels of the omega 3 fatty acids required to support the growth and development of the brain and nervous system, so supplementation is recommended.
- Calcium is the most important structural mineral in bones and teeth. Regular intake during the growth phases is essential to help the growth and development of bones and teeth.
- Immune support. Frequent bouts of colds and flu during winter are known to compromise your diet, with subsequent compromises in growth during these important developmental years. Combined with a healthy diet, supplements can also support the immune system to help reduce the risk and duration of respiratory infections.