Parents with concerns over their children's nutrition and eating habits have turned to multivitamin supplements for years. But a recent addition to the vitamin market is the gummy vitamin. While these candy-like supplements are definitely more palatable to children than the chewable vitamins of old, some parents wonder if these vitamins are as healthy as the somewhat chalky chewables of the past.
It's a fact that most children don't actually need a multivitamin supplement, despite the concerns of their well-meaning parents. However, there are some kids, whether they are picky eaters or they have some other type of deficiency, that do need these supplements. But when it comes to multivitamin supplements in general, and gummy vitamins in particular, not all supplements are created equal…not by a long shot.
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There can be a huge variation in the amounts and the nutrients contained in each vitamin. For example, the Centrum brand makes a gummy vitamin for children that contains 23 vitamins and minerals, while some other brands on the market contain as little as 14 nutrients. Some varieties also contain things like omega 3 fatty acids, DHA, or fiber. However one essential nutrient that is conspicuously missing from all gummy vitamins is iron. There are no gummy vitamins on the market currently that contain iron.
Since the development of the gummy vitamins, dentists and some parents have raised concerns over how good these sugary supplements are for children's teeth. The reason for their concern is the very thing that makes them appealing to children; the flavor and texture.
Gummy vitamins, just like the chewables of the past, have artificial flavors, colors and sugar added to make them more palatable. However, the disadvantage that gummy vitamins have is that their sticky, gummy texture sticks to the surface and between teeth, making them a dental nightmare for children if they don’t take proper care of their teeth. And let's face it, many children simply don't know how to care for their teeth, especially if they are very young.
The Candy Problem
While it is a very clever marketing idea to create vitamins that resemble gummy candy, it can pose a very serious safety risk to children. The reason is that children often don't understand that gummy vitamins are not like other candy. In fact, they are should be treated as medicine, not like candy at all.
Since the creation of gummy vitamins, poison control centers have seen an increase in the number of cases of children overdosing on gummy vitamins, mistakenly thinking that they are candy. Parents too often mistakenly think that it's not so much of problem if the child eats too many vitamins, after all these are nutrients that the body needs and are in the foods we eat, right? Wrong! In fact, many of the nutrients found in multivitamin supplements can make a child very sick if taken in too large of a quantity.
By far, the most serious of these nutrients is iron, but since this isn't found in gummy vitamins, it does make them slightly safer, but only slightly. Other nutrients such as vitamin A, D, niacin and calcium can all have dangerous side effects if taken in large amounts. This includes liver problems, heart problems, problems with nerve function and an increased risk of cancer.
Many vitamins are eliminated from the body through waste, but others, called fat soluble vitamins, are not. They are stored in the fat stores of the body to be released when needed. If a child is chewing too many gummy vitamins over a long period of time, it could lead to a dangerous buildup of these vitamins. And while many parents think that it can't happen to their kids, they should think again. It is not unheard of for a child to sneak a few extra vitamins when using the bathroom, especially if the vitamins are easily accessible.
The other problem is that since gummy vitamins look and taste like candy, they do nothing to encourage good eating habits, but instead enforce the idea that candy is better. With childhood obesity and diabetes on the rise, this is the last thing that should be reinforced to children.
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The choice to give a child a multivitamin supplement, whether the gummy variety or the regular chewable variety, rests solely with the parents. However, if parents do decide that these supplements are acceptable for their children, there are some precautions that should be followed to ensure the child's safety.
Many dentists say that they see an increase in cavities once a child starts taking gummy vitamins. So to counter this, dentists and vitamin manufacturers recommend that children take vitamins with meals and brush after. This way the sugary, sticky vitamins don't stay stuck to teeth all day, or worse, all night long.
Vitamin supplements should be treated as medication. They should be kept out of the reach of children, preferably in a locked area where older children won't be tempted to help themselves, or their younger siblings, to a few extra.
It is a good idea for only one parent in the family to be handing out all medications and supplements, which prevents overdosing, however if both parents will be doing it, it is essential that they communicate effectively to prevent overdose.
Children's health experts agree that in most cases vitamin and mineral supplements are safe for children. Ultimately it is up to parents to decide whether or not these products are safe and beneficial for their children. However in the end, experts also agree that it is always better for the child to get the nutrients they need from whole sources such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, instead of a sugary gummy bear.