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September 30, 2020

Food supplements for children

The market sells several and different types of food supplements for children such as capsules, jellies, powders etc., which aim at covering their needs. But the truth is that some of these needs are not even real! So what are the food supplements supported by scientific bibliography for children and what are the points you should pay attention to with regard to their correct usage?

First, it is important to understand that a supplement does precisely what its name says – its supplements diet! This means that the foundation for your child’s proper growth and health is a balanced and diverse diet, such as the diet outlined by the Mediterranean Standard which has its roots in our country. Scientific findings confirm that healthy children who follow this diet, do not need to receive food supplements because they don’t run the risk of deficiencies nor do they get any extra benefits from them. In special situations, such as breastfeeding infants that may be suffering from vitamin D deficiency due to insufficient exposure to sunlight along with low vitamin D concentration in breast milk, pediatricians assess that vitamin D supplements are beneficial and necessary.

However, the incorrect use of food supplements is very common; the primary purpose of supplements must always be the improvement of children’s dietary habits, not the replacement of beneficial foods with food supplements. There are cases of children that practice dietary habits which may lead to nutrient deficiencies. Children who consume large quantities of meat or milk and smaller or zero quantities of foods that are good sources of iron, are such examples. Similarly, children who consume very little or no fish at all are characterized by low ω-3 fatty acids intake. Fish oil is another source of ω3 fats and to cover their needs, it is recommended by the National Dietary Guidelines that they consume small oily fish (preferably in the oven or stewed) 2-3 times a week. A similar example can be a vegetarian diet that may be practiced by some families by avoiding the consumption of dairy, eggs and fish whereby the insufficient intake of riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium and iron is most certain (which confirms that this diet must be avoided during childhood). Moreover, children under pharmaceutical treatment are most likely to present vitamin and minerals-related deficiencies. In all of these cases, the use of food supplements may play a supportive role in the coverage of the child’s nutritional needs until achieving the desired change in the child’s dietary behavior or until the elimination of the factor that led to nutritional deficiencies.

What you should pay attention to

  1. Overdose on certain vitamins and minerals can lead to serious or less serious side-effects, so it is important that you follow the instructions of your pediatrician and the package. Compared to other vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) are more likely to cause side-effects. For example, excessive or longterm intake of vitamin A is linked to teratogenesis.
  2. The natural or plant-based origin of some food supplements does not automatically mean that they are safe.

To sum up

The most common reasons for which stressed moms go to pharmacies in the search for food supplements for their child is that they believe that they do not eat well enough and that their intake of necessary nutrients is not sufficient. However, each and every mom should remember that the first step towards helping their child is a balanced diet. But if you still feel that it would be best to enhance your child’s diet, you could chose fortified foods (milk, yogurt, bread, cereals etc.) that are widely available in the market and are suitable for kids. These products can supplement your child’s diet, since they have been designed based on the common childhood dietary needs.

As cliché as it may sound, even food supplement labels themselves mention that a balanced diet is essential and it’s true that one can find better balance in nature itself. So the best sources of vitamins and minerals are foods themselves and the human body knows best how much it needs to absorb, depending on its individual needs. To ensure their healthy growth, you can first teach your child how to eat healthily. This way, your child will inherit healthy habits for life! Finally, the decision for giving them food supplements shall better be left to the experts.


Indicative bibliography

  1. Bailey RL, Fulgoni VL 3rd, Keast DR, Lentino CV, Dwyer JT. Do dietary supplements improve micronutrient sufficiency in children and adolescents?JPediatr. 2012;161(5):837–842.
  2. Bailey RL, Gahche JJ, Thomas PR, Dwyer JT. Why US children use dietary supplements. 2013;74(6):737–741.
  3. Kirby, A., Woodward, A., & Jackson, S. (2010). Benefits of omega-3 supplementation for schoolchildren: Review of the current evidence. British Educational Research Journal, 36(5), 699-732.
  4. Sprouse AA, van Breemen RB. Pharmacokinetic Interactions between Drugs and Botanical Dietary Supplements. 2016;44(2):162–171.
  5. Institute of Preventive Medicine, Environmental and Occupational Health Prolepsis, Greek National Dietary Guidelines for Infants, Children and Adolescents, Lambrakis Press Group 2014


Ms Christina-PolinaLambrinou
PhD, Clinical Dietitian Nutritionist
Scientific Associate at Horokopio University

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