The Ultimate Guide: Which Vitamins Are Important For Children?
28 min read
As a parent, you’re likely familiar with the importance of feeding your little one a healthy and varied diet that’s packed full of the nutrients they need to run, jump, explore and play.
Many of these essential nutrients are vitamins, which perform unique and important roles within your child’s body to support their overall health and wellbeing.
But, what are the key vitamins for children? How are they different from minerals? And, how may you ensure your child gets enough of them when picky eating is involved?
Read on to discover the ins-and-outs of vitamins. Otherwise you may find the following links useful for finding the information you’re looking for:
Vitamins are a group of essential nutrients that support an array of your child’s important bodily functions and maintain their general health and wellbeing.
Childhood is a unique window of rapid growth and development, and each vitamin has a unique role of play within the body during this time. It’s particularly important for children to meet their daily vitamin needs to support their growth, development and overall health (1-2).
For example, did you know vitamin D helps to support your little one’s healthy bone growth? To discover more of the unique roles of different vitamins in your child’s body, click here.
In fact, the first 1,000 days (from the moment of conception through until a child’s 2nd birthday) are regarded as the best opportunity to shape your child’s lifelong health (3-6).
Providing good nutrition is one way you may help to set them on the path to a healthy future during this period, by ensuring they receive adequate amounts of essential nutrients, including vitamins. You can find more information about the first 1,000 days here.
In order for vitamins to perform their important functions, we need to ensure we have enough of them within our bodies. To do this, we must consume a certain amount of them each day.
The Australia Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council has established guidelines for the recommended amount of essential nutrients we need to consume every day. These guidelines are known as Nutrient Reference Values, which are based on a person’s age and gender as well as current scientific knowledge.
Depending on the vitamin, the recommendation for your child’s intake falls into one of two categories: Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) and Adequate Intake (AI).
An RDI is the average amount of a nutrient that a healthy individual requires depending on their age and gender. When an RDI can’t be established, an AI measurement is used based on the average intake of a healthy population of individuals (so it isn’t age or gender-specific) (7-8).
Vitamins can be divided into two main categories: fat-soluble vitamins and water-soluble vitamins.
As the name suggests, fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the fat cells of the body for a short time. Conversely, water-soluble vitamins cannot be stored in the body.
If they are not used or absorbed in a short period of time, they are flushed out. That’s why it’s important to replenish our levels of water-soluble vitamins every day (1-2).
Would you like to learn more about the difference between fat and water-soluble vitamins? Discover more information here.
Vitamins and minerals are both groups of essential nutrients that are classed as micronutrients and are important for supporting our overall health.
However, where vitamins and minerals differ is in their source and structure.
Vitamins are organic substances that are produced by living things, including the plants and animals that we eat. For example, carrots produce a pigment called betacarotene as they grow and, when we eat the carrots, we can absorb this betacarotene and convert it into vitamin A within our bodies.
On the other hand, minerals are inorganic substances that are found in the earth. The minerals in the soil are absorbed by plants and help them to grow. When humans and animals eat these plants, the minerals are passed along to us (9,10).
As a parent, you likely know the importance of vitamins for supporting your child’s general health and wellbeing.
But, did you know that each vitamin has it’s own unique roles and functions to play within their growing body?
Discover some of the key vitamins for children, why they’re important and where to find them in food (1,2,11,12):
Vitamin A helps to support your child’s healthy eyesight, skin and bones as well as maintain their immune system health and function.
In their immune system, it helps to maintain mucous membrane health, which are your child’s first line of defence against unwanted bugs and germs. To learn more about mucous membranes and the immune system, click here.
If you’re looking for food sources of vitamin A, sweet potatoes, carrots and capsicum are a good place to start. They contain betacarotene, which the body can convert into vitamin A.
As one of the better-known nutrients, you may have heard about vitamin C’s role in supporting immune system health. It’s also important for your little one’s healthy growth, as it’s involved in producing collagen, which is a major protein in bones.
Fun fact: Humans are the only animals that can’t produce their own vitamin C, which is why we must obtain it from the food we eat.
These foods include berries, kiwifruit, tomatoes and citrus fruits, which are all dietary sources of vitamin C.
Looking for more information about the benefits of vitamin C for kids? Click here to learn more
Vitamin D works with calcium to help support your child’s healthy bone growth and development. It’s also important for supporting their normal, healthy immune responses and immune cell production.
You might have heard vitamin D referred to as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin because of our body’s ability to produce it after sun exposure.
This is unusual and unique to vitamin D. Ordinarily we are unable to synthesise vitamins and must source them from our diets instead.
In normal circumstances, most of our vitamin D is obtained when our skin is exposed to direct sunlight. The amount of sun exposure needed to produce adequate vitamin D differs by location, find recommendations for Australia’s capital cities here. Alternatively, you may be interested in learning about the signs and symptoms of inadequate vitamin D.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that supports immune system health and function.
Nuts, seeds and cold-pressed vegetable oils, including wheatgerm oil, are among some of the best sources of Vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that also supports immune system health.
Other dietary sources include spinach, sweet potatoes, egg yolks and some dairy products.
Vitamin K helps to support your little one’s blood and bone health, where it plays a role in the blood clotting process.
Did you know: shortly after birth, many babies receive vitamin K in an injection or by mouth. This is usually arranged after a discussion between the parents and their doctor or midwife.
In older children, green leafy vegetables, plant oils and margarine are all dietary sources of vitamin K. Interestingly, it can also be produced by the bacteria in the gut.
There are a range of B-group vitamins, each with their own roles to play in your child’s body and unique dietary sources.
Vitamin B1 is important for supporting your child as it helps their body to break down the food they eat and turn it into energy. It also helps to support healthy muscle function and a healthy nervous system.
Whole grains, meat, fish, nuts, legumes and yeast are all dietary sources of thiamin. And, in Australia, baking flour is also fortified with the vitamin.
Vitamin B2 is an antioxidant, which like thiamin, is important for helping the body to turn food into energy. It also helps to support your child’s hair, skin and nail health.
Food sources of riboflavin include milk and eggs as well as fortified breads and cereals.
Much like thiamin and riboflavin, niacin is involved in producing energy from the food we eat. It also helps to support healthy skin.
Fish and meat are the go-to dietary sources of vitamin B3, but cereals, wholegrains, seeds and legumes also contain considerable amounts of niacin.
In addition to its involvement in energy production, vitamin B5 also helps to support your child’s body in times of stress as it is important for maintaining healthy stress responses.
Fun Fact: The name ‘pantothenic acid’ is derived from the Greek work ‘pantos’ meaning ‘everywhere’. This is because pantothenic acid can be found in nearly all plant and animal foods.
Therefore, it is quite easy to meet your body’s vitamin B5 needs through dietary sources. Foods with a particularly sizable pantothenic acid content include seafood, milk products, eggs, legumes, avocados, sweet potato and mushrooms.
Did you know vitamin B6 contributes to more than 100 bodily processes? This B-Group vitamin supports your little one’s healthy red blood cells, fuels energy production by assisting the break down of food, and maintains healthy immune system function.
Some dietary sources of vitamin B6 include salmon, tuna, chicken, potato, avocado and fortified cereals.
Folate plays a range of important roles in supporting your little one’s healthy growth and development. In fact, it’s particularly important during preconception and pregnancy, where it supports the proper development of fetal tissues. Click here to learn more about the importance of folate during preconception and pregnancy.
Leafy green vegetables including spinach and kale are sources of folate, as are legumes, wholegrain breads and cereals.
In Australia, all bread is also fortified with folic acid, which is a man-made version of folate.
Cobalamin is another B-Group vitamin that contributes to breaking down food and converting it into energy. Vitamin B12 is also supports a healthy nervous system and immune system health.
Animal products including oysters, sardines, eggs, fish, cheese and milk are dietary sources of vitamin B12.
Fun fact: Plants don’t need vitamin B12 to survive, and as such, cobalamin isn’t found in any plant-based foods.
The best way to ensure you child reaches their Recommended Daily Intake of nutrients is through a healthy and balanced diet. So, factors that disrupt mealtimes and make it difficult to provide a variety of foods may mean their vitamin intake isn’t always optimal.
Common factors that may impact with a healthy, varied diet include:
If your little one is going through a fussy phase, you may find these tips useful for helping them to overcome their picky eating.
If you have any concerns about your child’s nutrition, take them to see a health professional. Your local GP will be able to assess their individual dietary needs and provide tailored advice accordingly.
In Australia, we receive most of our vitamin D intake from sun exposure. Therefore, inadequate sun exposure may lead to inadequate vitamin D levels (13).
To help ensure your child gets enough vitamin D, it’s important that they spend enough time outdoors with their skin exposed to sunshine while also practicing sun safety.
The amount of time they will need to spend outdoors varies depending on where you live.
In Brisbane and Darwin, just a few minutes of sun exposure on most days of the week should be adequate for meeting your child’s vitamin D needs year-round (13).
For children in Perth, Sydney and Canberra, a few minutes of sun exposure on most days of the week should support your child’s adequate vitamin D levels during the summer. However, depending on the weather, they may need 2-3 hours of sunlight per week during the winter months of June and July (13).
Further south in Melbourne, Adelaide and Hobart, a few minutes of sun exposure on most days of the week should be adequate during the summer. However, during the winter months from May to August, two to three hours of sunlight per week should be enough for your child to maintain adequate vitamin D levels (13).
A healthy, balanced diet that’s in line with the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is the best way to support your child’s vitamin intake and maintain their overall health and wellbeing.
Of course, if you have any concerns about your child’s nutrition or vitamin intake, talk to your family GP or pharmacist.
Your health professional may recommend a dietary supplement for your child to help support their vitamin levels during times of inadequate dietary intake.
If this is the case, you may be wondering what the differences are between products.
Some key things to look for when comparing vitamin supplements are:
If you’d like to learn more about the different factors to look out for when choosing a dietary supplement for your child, including considerations for supporting bone and muscle health, energy levels and blood health, and immune system health, click here.
Of course, if you have any questions about selecting a dietary supplement for your child, talk to a health professional who can guide you based on their individual needs.
When your little one consumes a vitamin, its bioavailability is the amount of the nutrient that is absorbed and has an active effect within their body.
Put simply, the higher a vitamin’s bioavailability, the more of it that will get sent to the parts of the body that need it.
Vitamins come in different forms, some of which are more easily absorbed (or more bioavailable) than others.
When it comes to vitamin supplements for children, there are an array of different products on the market that come in a range of different forms. Three of the most common forms for little ones are liquids, gummies and tablets.
If your health professional has recommended a vitamin supplement for your child, you may like to consider the following factors for liquid, gummy and tablet vitamins:
Different vitamins work within the body in different ways depending on whether they are water-soluble or fat-soluble.
Water-soluble vitamins aren’t stored within the body and need to be replenished each day, so overdosing on them is very unlikely.
On the other hand, fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the body. These stores of vitamins may build up over time and become toxic when taken in very high doses.
An example of this is vitamin A. According to the World Health Organisation, excessive amounts of vitamin A may lead to vitamin A toxicity, and high intake may lead to adverse effects within the body.
To avoid this, look for supplements that contain betacarotene rather than vitamin A. Our bodies can absorb betacarotene and turn it into vitamin A based on our needs. So, if your child has adequate vitamin A stores and doesn’t need anymore, their body won’t convert betacarotene into vitamin A. But, on the other hand, if their vitamin A levels are lacking, the body will convert more betacarotene to meet this need.
If you have any concerns about your child’s health or suspect they may have exceeded the recommended dosage of a supplement, talk to your health professional or call the Poisons Advice Line on 131 126 and keep the label of the bottle on hand.
These medicines may not be right for you. Read the warnings before purchase. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional.
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