Growth during childhood occurs at a dizzying pace. The average child’s weight quintuples, height doubles, and brain size quadruples in just the first five years of life. Deficiencies in key nutrients during this short window of growth can have lifelong consequences. This is why optimal nutrition is so important during the early years.
As a parent, I know that getting kids to eat right is no small task. Many of the foods marketed to children are highly processed, loaded with sugar, fat, and calories, and devoid of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Consequently, far too many of our youngsters are on shaky nutritional footing.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), only a very small percentage of American children eat a good diet (20 percent of 2- to 6-year-olds, 8 percent of 7- to 12-year-olds, and 4 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds). Other surveys show that 69 percent of toddlers under age 2 eat candy or dessert and 44 percent drink sweetened beverages on a daily basis. No wonder so many boys and girls have inadequate intake of several essential nutrients.
I firmly believe that all children should take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement. While nutritional supplements are no replacement for a good diet, they do a heck of a job of filling dietary “gaps” and ensuring adequate intake of iron, iodine, zinc, B-complex vitamins, magnesium, calcium, antioxidants, and other nutrients that play crucial roles in optimal growth and development.
In addition to a daily multi, I also recommend docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplements. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that comprises a quarter of the total fat in the brain. A vital constituent of robust cellular membranes and myelin (which insulates and protects neurons and speeds up electrical transmissions), DHA also turns on genes that signal the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a growth factor that plays a key role in learning and memory.
Breast milk is an excellent source of DHA, which is one reason why children who are breastfed score higher on IQ tests than their bottle-fed peers. (The FDA finally got smart a few years ago and approved the addition of DHA-supplemented formula.) But toddlers and older kids often shy away from DHA-rich fish. The only surefire way to make certain they get enough is to supplement with DHA.
Look in your health food store for a children’s daily supplement that contains a broad range of essential vitamins and minerals and take as directed, based on your child’s age. The suggested dose of DHA is 100 mg a day from age six months to four years, 150 mg from four to six years, and 300 mg for children seven and older. (It is available in liquid and capsule form.)