The winter vitamin debate: does my child really need supplements?

It's winter and many moms want to know whether they should give their children vitamin supplements. Will they prevent a runny nose or are they simply a waste of money? We asked experts for advice.

Why take vitamin supplements?

These pills, capsules and powders – anything from Jelly Vites chews to Centrum – help to ensure your child gets the recommended daily allowance of minerals and other nutrients to boost their immune system. If for instance your child

refuses to eat broccoli a vitamin C supplement will help to ensure they get the recommended amount.

Kids who are fussy aboutwhat they eat or who suffer from immune disorders definitely benefit from taking supplements, says Cape Town paediatrician Dr Iqbal Karbanee.

He says children’s immune systems are still developing, making them unable to fight all infections. Supplements boost their immunity. Although supplements are beneficial they aren’t a shortcut to child health, says Johannesburg dietician Kelly Ansley. Healthy eating habits are of key importance. “A good way to determine if your child has a healthy diet is to look at the colour of the food on his plate,” she says. “Follow a healthy eating plan with plenty of variety and always choose fruit and vegetables in a variety of colours to  ensure your children get the necessary nutrients.”

Who can take vitamin supplements?

You get supplements for all ages, from babies to the elderly. Ask your pharmacist which ones are right for your child. Babies and toddlers who struggle to swallow pills can take chewy tablets that taste like sweets, or powder supplements mixed with water or milk. Breast milk or formula milk provide newborn babies with most of the nutrients they need but because babies often see  little sunlight you can consider giving them a vitamin D supplement. Experts recommend moms who are vegan or vegetarian also drink a vitamin supplement during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

Can supplements be harmful?

Vitamin supplements are harmless, provided parents stick to the recommended dose, Ansley says. But she warns some vitamins and minerals can be harmful if children take too many of them. “Vitamins A, D, E and K are stored in the liver and can cause liver poisoning if taken in excess.” But your child would have to consume huge quantities of these vitamins before this happens.

How to choose the right supplement

Experts recommend you choose a supplement with the word multivitamin on the packaging. This means the product contains a range of supplements. Choose one that contains three or more vitamins and minerals.


Avoid herb-based supplements as there’s little research on the active ingredients herbs contain, Ansley advises.

Children’s systems generally respond better to lactose- and gluten-free supplements.

Also avoid supplements that contain caffeine, sugar (choose those with natural sweeteners), salt, alcohol and ginseng.

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