Multivitamins: Only for extreme cases

November 03, 2011

So, your child mainly eats chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and the occasional piece of fruit? He needs to take multivitamins to make up for all of the vitamins and minerals he’s missing out on, right?

No, said Children’s clinical dietitian Mikie Rangel.

“We don’t recommend multivitamins for the average kid who has a regular diet because we always want vitamins and minerals to come from food,” she said. “That’s the way our bodies our built to absorb them.”

Most of the foods we eat are already fortified with additional vitamins and minerals. Think orange juice with calcium, bread with folic acid and cereal with added vitamins. And, yes, even some types of chicken nuggets and mac and cheese contain vitamins and minerals.

Too much of a good thing

You may think that there’s no harm in giving your child multivitamins, even if they’re unnecessary. But the truth is that too much of any vitamin can be toxic.

“Getting too much vitamin A may cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, blurred vision, loss of coordination and dizziness,” Rangel said. “It may also cause long-term complications such as liver problems, birth defects or an increased risk of osteoporosis. Getting too much of vitamin B3 may cause an upset stomach or flushing of the skin, and an excess of vitamin B6 may cause nerve damage in the limbs.

“There are different consequences depending on the vitamin in question. It is usually the fat soluble vitamins that would be of concern, because excess amounts of water soluble vitamins would be excreted in urine.”

There are exceptions

Multivitamins are recommended for some cases, though: extremely picky eaters who don’t include entire food groups in their diets; children with numerous food allergies; vegetarians and vegans; children who are vastly underweight; children with eating disorders; and children with diseases that require special diets.

No multivitamin brands are particularly better than others, Rangel said. What matters is that the multivitamin is age appropriate (adult multivitamins contain different types and greater amounts of vitamins) and that it’s in a form your child won’t mind taking (most children will take a gummy vitamin over a pill they have to swallow).

The main thing to remember, however, is that most children should receive all of their vitamins and minerals from the food they eat, not multivitamins.

“Multivitamins should never just be used as a supplement for a poor diet,” Rangel said. “They should only be used in extreme cases.”