Kids & Vitamins

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While most of these risk factors are clear, the last one can cause confusion. Many parents are unsure whether a child's appetite is adequate, so they give him a supplement just in case. "I understand parents' fears that their child is missing out on an important nutrient. The only problem I have with the better-safe-than-sorry approach is that some moms and dads may rely on the supplement too much rather than encouraging improvements in their child's diet," says Mary Frances Picciano, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements in Bethesda, MD. Generally, supplements deliver vitamins and minerals, she says, while foods offer these nutrients as well as a smorgasbord of other health-promoting compounds.

So what's best for your child? We've outlined a way to find out.

1. Check up on children's vitamin and mineral needs.
Except for calcium, kids' nutrient requirements are far less than adults'. For instance, 4- to 8-year-olds need 25 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C daily -- the amount in just two ounces of orange juice. And just one peanut butter sandwich can supply more than 100 mg of a 4- to 8-year-old's 130 mg magnesium requirement. Unfortunately, you can't rely on nutrition labels to provide you with this information. Most labels use Daily Values, a measure based on the optimum amount for adults. The label on a package of rolls might state that one contains 15% of the Daily Value of the B vitamin folic acid, for example, but that's the equivalent of 30% of a 4- to 8-year-old's Recommended Dietary Allowance. The 35% of the Daily Value of thiamin contained in a serving of pasta satisfies 87% of the RDA for children 4 to 8.

How Many Nutrients Kids Really Require

The percentages of vitamins and minerals that are listed on food labels apply to adults' requirements, measured by standards called Daily Values (DV). But the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for children is usually much lower. The chart below pinpoints the amounts of different nutrients that your kids need daily. For more information about RDAs visit the Office of Dietary Supplements:

RDA for kids 1 to 3

Calcium -- 700 mg
Copper -- 340 mcg
Folic acid -- 150 mcg
Iron -- 7 mg
Magnesium -- 80 mg
Niacin -- 6 mg
Vitamin A -- 1,000 IU
Vitamin C -- 15 mg
Vitamin D -- 600 IU
Zinc -- 3mg

RDA for kids 4 to 8

Calcium -- 1000 mg
Copper -- 440 mcg
Folic acid -- 200 mcg
Iron -- 10 mg
Magnesium -- 130 mg
Niacin -- 8 mg
Vitamin A -- 1,333 IU
Vitamin C -- 25 mg
Vitamin D -- 600 IU
Zinc -- 5 mg

RDA for kids 9 to 12

Calcium -- 1,300 mg
Copper -- 700 mcg
Folic acid -- 300 mcg
Iron -- 8 mg
Magnesium -- 240 mg
Niacin -- 12 mg
Vitamin A -- 600 mcg RAE
Vitamin C -- 45 mg
Vitamin D -- 600 IU
Zinc -- 8 mg

DV

Calcium -- 1000 mg
Copper -- 2.0 mg
Folic acid -- 400 mcg
Iron -- 18 mg
Magnesium -- 400 mg
Niacin -- 20 mg
Vitamin A -- 5,000 IU
Vitamin C -- 60 mg
Vitamin D -- 600 IU
Zinc -- 15 mg

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