RAISING SUCCESSFUL KIDS The No. 1 vitamin kids in the U.S. ‘aren’t getting enough of’ today: Dietitian and parenting expert

As a dietitian and founder of Kids Eat in Color, one of the most common questions parents ask me is how to tell if their children are getting the right nutrients.

The unfortunate truth is that many kids today don’t consume the proper amount of nutrients that are vital for growth, preventing chronic diseases, and overall health.

Fiber and potassium are two big ones. But the No. 1 nutrient that kids in the U.S. aren’t getting enough of is vitamin D.

How vitamin D deficiency impacts kids’ health

Fifty percent of children ages 1 to 5 and 70% of children ages 6 to 11 have a vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and muscles. Without it, our bodies can’t effectively absorb calcium, and we need calcium for healthy bones.

A child with severe vitamin D deficiency can have rickets (a disorder characterized by soft, weak bones) and its associated conditions, including incorrect growth patterns, bone pain and deformities in the joints.

More commonly, when a child does not have enough vitamin D, their immune system may not work properly, or they may constantly feel fatigued or sore.

How to increase vitamin D levels in kids

There’s some debate over how much vitamin D children should consume daily. But the National Institutes of Health recommends 400 International Units (IU) for infants, and 600 IU for kids between ages 1 and 13 years old.

Sun exposure alone often can’t meet the requirements. Here are two ways parents can help their kids get more vitamin D:

1. Food

  • Fatty fish, such as salmon, trout or sardines
  • Beef liver, egg yolks and cheese
  • Mushrooms

Additionally, some fortified foods have vitamin D added to them during processing:

  • Plant-based milks, such as soy, pea or oat milk
  • Dairy milk (grass-fed and raw milk often are not fortified)
  • Orange juice
  • Yogurt
  • Fortified processed foods, such as some cereals

2. Supplements

Many health organizations recommend liquid supplements for infants who consume breastmilk, since human milk alone doesn’t provide enough vitamin D.

Vitamin D drops can be bought over the counter and given to an infant to help them meet their daily requirement of 400 IU.

Keep in mind that large doses of vitamin D can be toxic and lead to adverse health effects. For older children whose vitamin D status is unknown, talk to your healthcare provider about whether it makes sense for them to take a supplement.