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Should I give my child vitamins or supplements? Add to ...

The question

My kid's a really picky eater. Should I give her vitamins or supplements?

The answer

Parents ask about the role of vitamins or supplements when the child is frequently sick or tired, or when a child frustrates parents by being a professional Picky Eater. (I call these kids "bird-eaters" because their parents usually tell me, "My child eats like a bird - hardly anything at all.")

Food should always be the best and only source for optimal nutrition. I encourage families to "eat like a Greek," which means eating a Mediterranean diet. This diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, healthy oils, salads and moderate amounts of animal fats.

Vitamins are affordable and convenient to use, but they fail to provide some of the phyto-nutrients, fibre and antioxidants found in the more natural, whole food supplements. Reputable studies show that when children take daily whole food supplements, they have less viral infections, less DNA damage and better immunity.

Most health food stores sell whole food supplements. Make sure that there is objective and original research behind whatever product you end up using. For example, if you go to www.juiceplus.com and click on the research button, you will be directed to studies published in reputable journals.

When athletic children put more demands on their bodies, oxidative stress results. Instead of using antioxidant vitamins in these children, I suggest parents give them smoothies.

Put a variety of berries and fruits in a blender with a scoop of Greek yogurt, which is high in protein and low in fat, add flaxseed, milk fortified with vitamin D and calcium, and you end up with natural snack to help your child consume foods rich in antioxidants.

To learn more about the difference between vitamins and supplements, a see a video clip of Dr. David Katz from Yale, on the home page of www.healthykids.ca.

Send pediatrician Peter Nieman your questions at pediatrician@globeandmail.com. He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Peter Nieman.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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