I was planning to write about a different topic today. But a conversation that I had last night with a parent was a conversation that I have very frequently with parents. It inspired me to change my plans and make it the topic that I address today. This topic is vitamin D. Particularly, that kids need vitamin D supplements. It’s quite an interesting situation really. Almost every parent I speak to knows that their baby needs vitamin D if they’re breastfed or fed a combination of breast milk and formula. Many of the adults take vitamin D themselves. But somewhere along the way as their little one started to eat more solid foods and stopped breastfeeding, they stopped giving their little one vitamin D. When you step back and look at it from that perspective – that babies and adults both need vitamin D supplements, it’s not surprising that kids need vitamin D too. Yet almost no parents I speak to are giving it to their kids.
Here’s the current recommendations*:
- Babies 0 – 6 months: 400 IU (safe upper limit 1000 IU)
- Babies 7 – 12 months 400 IU (safe upper limit 1500 IU)
- Kids 1 – 3 years 600 IU (safe upper limit 2500 IU)
- Kids 4 – 8 years 600 IU (safe upper limit 3000 IU)
- Kids 9 years – adults 70 years 600 IU (safe upper limit 4000 IU)
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women 600 IU (safe upper limit 4000 IU)
What about natural sources of vitamin D? Vitamin D is found in very few foods. One serving of salmon has an awesome 600 IU. Other fatty fish are excellent sources too. If you experienced the pleasure (not) of taking cod liver oil, you were getting a rocking 1360 IU in each tablespoon. The problem is that few of us eat fatty fish every day (or expose ourselves to the torture of cod live oil). People often think of milk when I talk about vitamin D but a glass of milk only has 100 IU. If a child is drinking 6 glasses of milk a day to get their vitamin D, they’re drinking so much milk that it’s crowding out other healthy foods (like vegetables and fruits) that provide other important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
The other natural source of vitamin D of course is sunlight. You likely know vitamin D as the sunshine vitamin. The problem is that here in Canada we don’t make vitamin D from October through March, even on sunny days, because the light’s wavelengths aren’t right. In the summer, clothes, sunscreen, shade, smog, and window glass all block our ability to make vitamin D from the sun.
Because vitamin D exists in few foods, and because of our indoor/sun safe lifestyles, supplements play an important role. If you are currently giving your child a multivitamin (such as a gummy), check the label to see how much vitamin D it contains. Some fish oil liquids contain vitamin D. If you give your child fish oil, check the bottle’s label to see if it contains vitamin D. Vitamin D drops are tiny and have no flavour so they’re a super simple way to give your kids (even picky eaters) vitamin D.
In summary, few kids meet their vitamin D needs through natural sources alone. There’s a number of ways to give your child enough vitamin D through supplements. Choose amongst the options of multivitamins/gummies, fish oils and/or vitamin D drops.
* Research is happening into whether the vitamin D recommendations should be higher. Until lots of large studies have been completed, as well as studies of the safety of higher doses, I recommend keeping within the range listed here.