Which vitamins are important for kids and what foods contain them?

Kids need minerals and vitamins to support their growth and development. But try telling them that! As every parent knows, kids really do have minds of their own – especially when it comes to their food.

Maybe they’re ‘white diet’ devotees who love pasta, rice, bread and potato, while avoiding anything with even a hint of green. Or perhaps they love it one day, refuse it the next. Sometimes, getting them to eat anything at all can be a mission.

But what nutrients are actually good for kids? Where can you naturally source them and why is each one important?

Why are vitamins important for kids?

Nutrients aren’t just important for kids. No matter how old we are, we all need them to maintain optimum health.

That said, many vitamins play a role in healthy brain development for kids, as well as supporting other important functions within their bodies. Various vitamins and minerals help to keep kids well and play a role in giving them the energy they need for busy days of play and learning.

As a parent, though, it’s natural to worry about what your kids are eating. Are they getting the right nutrients? Are you setting them up for the best start in life?

The first step is understanding the nutrients your kids need. Then you can assess what they’re eating to decide whether you need to modify their diet to optimise their health.

Which are the best vitamins for kids?

From infant to adult, there are dietary requirements for vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats to support our bodies and their various functions. Here’s a rundown on the top minerals and vitamins for kids, and the role each one plays in supporting a healthy body.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

While they’re not technically vitamins or minerals, the nutrients in fish oil are really important for kids. That’s because fish oil contains two essential omega-3 fatty acids, one of which is DHA.

DHA can be found in fish and other seafood, but since most kids aren’t fans of eating oily fish, a flavoured liquid fish oil for kids, high in DHA, is a great option to introduce the benefits of omega-3 to them. Omega-3 fatty acids

Additional sources of Omega-3 are walnuts, chia seeds, canola oil and fortified foods such as certain brands of eggs, yoghurt and soy beverages. (1)

Vitamin A

You’ll find forms of vitamin A in oily fish, poultry and egg yolks. Unfortunately, none of those are high on many kids’ lists of favourite foods. Nor is liver, another vitamin-A-rich food. You can also find it in milk, cheese and eggs. At least they tend to be on the snack wish list of most kids.

But why is vitamin A so good? It may actually help kids to develop healthy eyes, skin and bones. On top of that, it also plays a role in helping them to maintain a healthy immune system. (2)

B-group vitamins

There are several B-group vitamins, many of which play interesting roles in helping kids’ bodies to release energy from food. They do this by helping to break down the three ‘macronutrients’: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. (3)
Plus, some B-group vitamins also provide important support for nervous system health and red blood cell production.

The main B-group vitamins are:
● vitamin B1 (thiamin)
● vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
● vitamin B3 (niacinamide)
● vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
● vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
● vitamin B7 (biotin)
● vitamin B9 (folic acid)
● vitamin B12 (cobalamin)

Fun fact: our bodies can’t efficiently store B-group vitamins. That’s why it’s important to have a regular intake of these important nutrients.

B vitamin can be sourced in foods such as fish, beans, meat, eggs, dairy and leafy green vegetables.

Vitamin C

Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is most commonly associated with citrus fruits like oranges. You might also be familiar with it as a vitamin that helps to support healthy immune function.

But immune system health is just one of the roles vitamin C plays in keeping kids healthy. It also helps their bodies to produce collagen – an important protein in skin and connective tissue – and supports healthy bones and teeth. (4)

And it’s another vitamin that our bodies can’t store, so regular consumption is the way to go. Berries, kiwifruit, tomatoes and blackcurrant are good sources of Vitamin C.

Vitamin D

One of vitamin D’s main roles is to support healthy bone growth and development. (5) That includes hip bones, knee bones, arm bones… all the bones. Besides helping to maintain bone health, vitamin D also plays a role in supporting healthy immune responses and immune cell production.

While we tend to get most vitamins and minerals from food, vitamin D is a little different. Our bodies produce it when our skin is exposed to sunlight. So, like us, kids usually get most of their vitamin D from being out in the sun. Other sources of Vitamin D are fortified cereals, dairy and mushrooms.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is important for proper functioning of many of the body’s organs.(6) It helps maintain healthy skin, good vision and correct functioning of the immune system.

Vitamin E is one of the nutrients that our bodies can store, so children don’t require huge doses of it as adequate levels can be achieved from a vitamin E rich diet.

You’ll predominantly find vitamin E in nuts and seeds. However, it does show up in some fruits and vegetables, like spinach, kiwifruit, broccoli and mango too.

Calcium

Calcium is one of the minerals that kids really need. It works hand-in-hand with vitamin D to support the development of strong bones and teeth.

You probably know that calcium is found in dairy products, such as milk and cheese. However, another source of calcium is in fish that have bones, like sardines or salmon.

Building strong, healthy bones is essential for kids, since they’ll develop most of their bone density before they reach adulthood. Without this, they’re at greater risk of conditions like osteoporosis later in life. (7)

Zinc

Mineral Zinc plays a role in immune health and wound healing (8), as well as bone and cartilage development. The mineral is especially important during pregnancy and for children to ensure healthy growth and development.

The body cannot make Zinc itself, so it has to be obtained via food. You’ll find zinc mostly in animal products like meat, chicken and seafood, as well as in dairy sources like milk.

Visit Health Direct here for dosage, or contact your GP for assistance with the correct intake for your child.

References:

  1. Office of Dietary Supplements – Omega-3 Fatty Acids. (2021). National Institute of Health. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/
  2. Vitamin A. (2019). Healthdirect. Retrieved from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/vitamin-a
  3. Vitamin B. (2020). Healthdirect. Retrieved from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/vitamin-b
  4. Pullar JM, Carr AC, Vissers MCM. The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients. 2017;9(8):866. Published 2017 Aug 12. doi:10.3390/nu9080866 Retrieved from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/vitamin-c
  5. Vitamin D – Better Health Channel. (2018). Better Health. Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/vitamin-d
  6. Vitamin E. (2019). Healthdirect. Retrieved from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/vitamin-e
  7. Calcium. (2019). Healthdirect. Retrieved from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/calcium
  8. Zinc and your health. (2021b). Healthdirect. Retrieved from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/zinc