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Supplementing kids’ diets

Do you have kids? Are they healthy? Do they eat well?

Controversial question: do they take supplements?

In my opinion, supplements are excellent and can be highly beneficial. When taken appropriately, that is; not if they are used in order to supplant healthy diet and lifestyle habits. Supplements should run alongside healthy practices, not make up for bad ones (ideally).

A recently published article in the journal Nutrition Reviews conducted a review of the research for vitamin, mineral and fatty acid supplementation in children and adolescents. Namely, does this kind of supplementation help and if so, how?

The researchers looked at 36 studies from all over the world, involving thousands of children. Their findings? There was an overall improvement in cognitive ability, learning and behaviour for children supplemented with vitamins, minerals and/or fatty acids. The best results were seen over a treatment period of at least 3 months and, unsurprisingly, in kiddos that were not well nourished. Kids with learning disabilities and ADHD / ADHD-like symptoms also responded particularly well to supplementation.

I think this is interesting. Something to consider. Particularly for those of us with kids or planning to have them. And particularly when you consider the (poor) health of our population at large.

Previous studies have shown that Australian children and adolescents consume far less fruit and vegetables than than the recommended healthy intake (which should ideally be a baseline). They also eat a lot of processed foods (which BTW are not recommended for health) and have a very low intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (i.e. the ‘good’ fats).

It seems ridiculous really, in a country of great prosperity and opportunity, our children are … what? … malnourished? Well, kind of. And, in fact, shamefully yes in some of our communities.

Not getting adequate nutrition at an early age can predispose us and our kids to both immediate and future health problems. It can also impact cognition and and behaviour (last week I mentioned a study that showed diet in the first two years of life can influence IQ).

So where to start?

“Supplementation is good for health” is a very broad statement and potentially confusion e.g. supplement with what, how much and for how long?

Start with a good diet. You know the one: fresh fruit and veg, clean water, little/no sugar, lean meats, fish, wholegrains, nuts, avoiding foods not well tolerated, etc.

Yeah yeah, I know that’s boring to hear over and over again, but it’s important. Good nutrition is the foundation of health. No but really.

From there, talk to someone in the know about the individual health, diet and symptoms (if there are any) for you and your kids. Then you can work out what, if any, supplemental nutrients could make a difference.

*steps off soap box*

Reference: Nutr Rev 2012 Oct;70(10):594-610

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About Kathleen Murphy

Australian naturopath and freelance writer, based in Sydney. I love working with people from all walks of life, helping them institute changes that can become life-long health habits. I can be found at Uclinic | 421 Bourke Street, Surry Hills | Ph: 02 9332 0400 |

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