As a nutrition therapist, my philosophy of practice is to adjust food first and use supplements strategically and wisely when necessary. As their name suggests, supplements are meant to be supplemental to a healthy, nutrient-dense, whole foods based diet. That said, it has become increasingly difficult to get all of the vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids, and antioxidants our bodies require purely from diet alone. Multiple factors have contributed to the need for high-quality supplementation in addition to a nutrient-dense diet. Most notably, a decline in soil diversity and quality have negatively impacted the nutrient density of our foods. For adults and children alike, aim to obtain as many nutrients as possible from food, and then use targeted supplementation to make up the difference.
While every individual is biochemically unique and supplementation is best when customized for your child with the assistance of a health practitioner, there are several basic supplements that are beneficial for most kids:
Probiotic foods, beverages, and supplements help establish healthy gut flora to promote normal digestive function, protect against infection, regulate metabolism, and strengthen the immune system. More than 75% of the immune system is housed in the gut - so good health really does start with the gut! Probiotic supplements differ in the unique variety and combination of Lactobacillus and Bifidofactor species offered. Each strain has a different and unique impact on the gut, immune system, brain, metabolism, mood, hormones, and detoxification pathways. For example, strains such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri help reduce the risk of food allergies.1,2 To get maximum benefit from your child’s probiotic, choose a brand with as many different strains as possible and a CFU (colony forming unit) count of 5 - 10 billion/day for infants and 10 - 25 billion/day for children 2+. Probiotics are especially important for babies born via Cesarean section, on infant formula, or have thrush or reflux. The infant gut microbiome is predominantly comprised of Bifidofactor species, while the adult microbiome is mostly Lactobacillus species. After the first year of life, the infant gut microbiome achieves a more complex structure, and it becomes similar to that of adults by age three.3 Use an infant probiotic for the first two years of life, and after age three children can use the same probiotic as an adult. Recommended at birth for babies born via Cesarean section and 6+ months for babies born vaginally.
Liver is hands-down the most nutrient-dense superfood - for babies and adults. It’s a powerhouse of nutrition packed with vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin K2, folate, betaine, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese, selenium, zinc, and iron. Zinc and iron are critical for healthy growth and development, particularly during infancy. At around six months, levels of zinc in breast milk naturally fall and baby’s iron stores deplete, so sources of these nutrients are especially important4. Liver also has brain-building choline, anti-inflammatory omega-3s, serotonin-making tryptophan, and is rich in antioxidants. It’s truly a whole-food daily multi-vitamin. Very little liver is needed for a super nutrition boost for babies. You can start with just ½ to 1 tsp. Due to the high quantity of vitamin A found in beef liver, I suggest 1 oz. (28g) of beef/calf liver every other day. For travel or on-the-go, desiccated beef liver in a powder form transports well and easily mixes into a paste with breastmilk or formula. The powder also mixes well with avocado, sweet potato, and other soft foods. Recommended for babies 6+ months.
3 VITAMIN D
Vitamin D is a critical fat-soluble vitamin synthesized from sunlight exposure. It’s not just a vitamin though, it’s a neuroregulatory steroidal hormone that influences almost 3,000 genes in the body! Vitamin D receptors have been found in almost every type of human cell influencing heart health, neurological function, the nervous system, bone strength, and immune system function. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies receive 400 IU per day of vitamin D supplementation. The primary source of vitamin D for babies, other than sunlight and supplementation, is what they stored from mama prior to birth. The vitamin D status of mama during pregnancy directly affects baby’s vitamin D stores at birth so it’s of utmost importance that pregnant women optimize their vitamin D levels. Be sure to have your Vitamin D, 25 Hydroxy tested during pregnancy. Anything less than 50 ng/ml is deficient and a range of 60 - 70 ng/ml is optimal. It does take considerable effort/dosage to raise serum levels above 40 ng/ml but once there, a maintenance dosage is 2,000 IU daily. For breastfeeding mamas, a 2015 study concluded that maternal high-dose vitamin D3 supplementation (6400 IU/day) or conventional infant vitamin D3 supplementation (400 IU/day) lead to similar vitamin D status of healthy exclusively/fully breastfeeding infants by 7 months of age.5 Recommendation is either 400 IU daily for babies or 6400 IU daily for exclusively breastfeeding mothers beginning at birth.
4 VITAMIN C
Vitamin C is well known as the nutrient for strengthening the immune system, however it’s essential for so many other reasons: supporting energy production, making collagen for healthy skin, and production of the master antioxidant glutathione, just to name a few. For vitamin C supplementation, I prefer a natural, wildcrafted source with ingredients like camu camu berries - one of the richest whole food sources of vitamin C (30 - 50x MORE than an orange)! Amla and acerola berries are also excellent natural sources of vitamin C. Amla is super-charged with vitamin C and known for assisting in the digestion and absorption of nutrients as well as liver support and detoxification. See the Brands & Resources section below for my product recommendation that includes these, as well as the naturally-occurring vitamin C co-factors buckwheat berry sprouts to improve assimilation and black pepper berry to increase vitamin C uptake into the cells. Recommended for babies 6+ months.
5 OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
A common theme runs through good infant and child nutrition and that is nutrients that support neurological function and overall brain development. A child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development from conception to age three. At birth, the infant brain already has nearly all of the neurons it will ever have. It doubles in size in the first year, and by age three it has reached 80% of its adult volume.6,7,8 Even more significant, synapses (the connections between the neurons) are formed at a faster rate during these years than at any other time. Choline is a critical nutrient for the development of the brain, specifically the formation of these synapses. Egg yolks are an excellent source of choline, both for pregnant mamas and as a first food for infants. Omega-3 essential fatty acids are another critical nutrient for brain development. They are called essential fatty acids because our bodies cannot make them from scratch, we must consume them in our diet. Two important omega-3 fatty acids are eicospentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA is important because it directly reduces inflammation in the body. DHA is important for proper neurological function, specifically important for brain function. I recommend supplementing with both EPA and DHA because, unless your child is eating cold water fatty fish 3 - 5 times per week, they are probably lacking in these essential fatty acids. Recommended for babies 6+ months.
1 Barthow C., Wickens K., Stanley T. The Probiotics in Pregnancy Study (PIP Study): rationale and design of a double-blind randomised controlled trial to improve maternal health during pregnancy and prevent infant eczema and allergy. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2016;16:133.
2 Abrahamsson TR, et al. Probiotics in prevention of IgE-associated eczema: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007;119:1174–1180.
3 Eisenhofer G, Aneman A, Friberg P, Hooper D, Fåndriks L, Lonroth H, Hunyady B, Mezey E. Substantial production of dopamine in the human gastrointestinal tract. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 82, Issue 11, 1 November 1997, Pages 3864–3871.
4 1 Dewey, K. G. (2013). The challenge of meeting nutrient needs of infants and young children during the period of complementary feeding: an evolutionary perspective. The Journal of Nutrition, 143(12), 2050-2054.
5 Bruce W. Hollis, Carol L. Wagner, Cynthia R. Howard, Myla Ebeling, Judy R. Shary, Pamela G. Smith, Sarah N. Taylor, Kristen Morella, Ruth A. Lawrence, Thomas C. Hulsey Maternal Versus Infant Vitamin D Supplementation During Lactation: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Pediatrics. 2015 Oct;136(4):625-34. doi: 10.1542/peds.2015-1669.
6 Gilmore JH, Lin W, Prasatwa MW, et al. Regional gray matter growth, sexual dimorphism, and cerebral asymmetry in the neonatal brain. Journal of Neuroscience. 2007;27(6):1255-1260.
7 Nowakowski RS. Stable neuron numbers from cradle to grave. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2006;103(33):12219-12220.
8 Rakic, P. No more cortical neurons for you. Science. 2006;313:928-929.
Andrea Laine White, MNT Bio Andrea White is a Functional Nutrition Therapist with a clinical practice in Castle Rock, CO. Additionally, she is the in-house nutritionist and Chief Marketing Officer for http://www.babyfreshorganics.co. Follow @nutritionmovement.