Do Kids Need Nutritional Supplements?
I get asked all the time whether I think kids need nutritional supplements or whether we could (or should) be able to provide all their nutrition through food alone.
It’s a valid question and a topic I have wrestled with quite a bit as a nutritionist, as a mother, and as a human being. It stirs up a lot of emotion for me because my answer gets a bit political and raises some food security and human rights issues.
Here’s where I’ve settled now when it comes to giving kids nutritional supplements…
Our bodies were created in perfect harmony with the natural world. The earth provides exactly what our bodies need to survive. So in a very “pure” sense, yes, all the nutrients (and air and water and sunshine) we need for optimal health we should be able to get from a well balanced diet of whole foods and a healthy lifestyle.
And up until about 2 generations ago, I think it was possible.
But… (and it’s a big “but”).... we happen to live in unhealthy times (this is where it gets political).
Farming technology can now produce food from soil that is less biodiverse than it needs to be to produce nutritious food, our collective stress continues to rise, and our digestive systems are not able to receive food the same way they once did.
(Related post: How To Ferment Foods For Your Kids)
Not to mention the extra burden of breathing polluted air, eating and breathing chemicals, lack of sleep, sedentary lifestyles, and the potential ill effects of things like mold and WIFI.
So where does that leave us?
I urge you not to let it propel you into feelings of defeat and fear (oh, that's what it used to do to me, and you can read about how that shifted here).
I think it leaves us needing new parenting strategies - ones that focus on how to raise resilient healthy kids in these troubling times.
Fact is, we and our kids are under a heavy weight of social, environmental, and biological stress and at the same time our built-in mechanisms for dealing with that stress (and thank goodness we even have them!) are becoming overworked and tired.
The result of this situation is symptoms of ill health.
(Related post: Fearless Parenting?)
What If Our Bodies Were A Business?
Now in a business situation, when an important employee is overworked and tired a responsive boss who sees the value of their employee will recognize the danger of burnout, and either reduce some of the stress load or give their valued employee more support (or both).
For our kids' bodies (and our own) we can be that concerned boss. We need to identify and reduce the stressors our kids are under and at the same time we need to flood them with the extra support their bodies need to manage stress. And that means flood them with good nutrition - the very same good nutrition that it's becoming harder and harder to come by given conventional farming practices.
Reducing stress while nourishing stress response is the process I call Raising Resilience that I walk through in my book and my programs - it's a parenting strategy that can become part of your parenting toolbox.
The Bottom Line
So does a child need nutritional supplements? I think if your child eats 100% fresh food from organic, biodynamic farms that are within 50 miles of you, eats it slowly and with consciousness, lives a low-stress fulfilling life, exercises well, drinks pure clean water and breathes pure clean air, feels amazing and has no symptoms of ill health then yes, I think they could probably get all they need for resilient health from food alone (there's a genetic piece here though, which leaves some kids more prone to deficiency. But that's another topic for another time).
For the rest of us, I think we need some help. And that's when I turn to nutritional supplements (again it becomes political because I believe we all have a right to access food that not only fills us but nourishes us. Sadly, policymakers don't seem to see the difference, and only a portion of us can actually afford quality supplements to fill that gap).
We're raising our kids in a perfect storm - their stress is high and at the same time their stress tolerance systems are overworked, underpaid and tired because of a less than optimal nutrient load in our food supply.
Because of that we are seeing rising symptoms of low resilience (asthma, allergy, mental illness, poor growth, slow learning, hyperactivity, chronic infection, insomnia... etc).
After working with families for over 10 years trying to raise resilience, I no longer think we can restore resilience the way we need to using food alone.
You might not need supplements forever and they are NOT a replacement for a healthy whole foods diet, but they are extremely helpful for bringing up the baseline nutritional status so we can get chemical processes in the body working better.
From there you can experiment with using food to maintain your momentum. But whether or not you can ditch the supplements altogether will depend on how strong you can build your child's resilience.