Most kids are picky eaters, which may well explain the boom in the multivitamin industry. Statista reports that from 2000 to 2017, the retail sales of vitamins and nutritional supplements in the United States topped $36 billion. With the popularity of supplements increasing every year, one would assume that popping a pill is the cure-all for our children getting all the vitamins and nutrition they need to grow healthy, smart, and strong. There is actually little scientific evidence to prove that supplements are a replacement for a balanced diet. The challenge is not only sourcing the right amount of vitamins and minerals, but also obtaining a wide and balanced variety from the diet. How many parents can honestly declare that their kids’ diets are always balanced and healthy?

Grocery shopping for adults is way easier than it is for kids. Parents and caregivers aren’t always able to offer attractive food choices to them. Making the situation worse are the fast food and snack industries that target the young and their parents with enticing advertisements. They promise tasty meals on the go—which as we know are not always the most wholesome choices. For some people, finding the time and energy to select the best food options is just not possible. For others, financial limitations dictate the items in their shopping carts. An easy way out then is to offer children a once-a-day multivitamin to fill the nutritional gap for the essential daily nutrients, namely iron, calcium, vitamin D, B vitamins, and vitamin E. IFANCA certifies as halal, a wide range of children’s dietary supplement gummies by Salaam Nutritionals and Noor Vitamins®—which are a way more palatable option, for the little ones, than syrups and pills!

Iron is an essential nutrient for growth and development. It helps move oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Iron also helps muscles store and use oxygen. A child who does not consume enough iron may develop iron-deficiency or anemia—a condition that lacks adequate healthy red blood cells and negatively affects muscle and brain function. Foods such as red meats, turkey, lentils, leafy vegetables, tofu, and dark chocolate should be consumed daily in order to obtain 7-10 milligrams of iron a day. Requirements are even higher for teenage boys and for girls who are post-puberty. When it is not possible to consume enough iron from food, a chewable supplement, Forever Kids® is a good option. Its manufacturing company is not only IFANCA halal certified, but also formulates its vitamins “without artificial colors or preservatives.” Furthermore, the supplement’s “phytonutrient base is taken from such nutritious foods as carrots, beets, broccoli, spinach, blueberries, apples, tomatoes, and strawberries,” as stated on their website.

Calcium is another essential building block for growing children. A healthy daily dose of calcium helps ensure that children’s bones and teeth have solid growth for now and reserves for the future when bone-loss becomes an issue in advanced age. Julian Huang, MD, a board-certified pediatrician, notes, “The need for increased calcium acquisition and storage begins very early in life—especially in the pre-adolescent years.” When dairy products, green leafy vegetables, or salmon are not on the menu, a calcium supplement of at least 700 milligrams for toddlers, 1,000 milligrams for school-aged children, and 1,300 milligrams for teens, is recommended.

Vitamin D, commonly referred to as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because the human body naturally produces it when directly exposed to sunlight, works in tandem with calcium to regulate its absorption and to facilitate a normal immune system function. Kids who spend at least 15 minutes a day outside are sure to catch up on vitamin D. With the increase in time spent indoors, mostly with personal devices, there is less exposure to the Sun. Children and teens need at least 600 International Units (IU) of vitamin D per day. Natural food sources of vitamin D include salmon, sardines, egg yolks, shrimp, orange juice, and of course, dairy. Since nearly half of the American population lacks appropriate levels of vitamin D, many doctors highly recommend a vitamin D supplement. According to a recent study published in the Harvard School of Public Health, “Being ‘D-ficient’ may increase the risk of a host of chronic diseases, such as osteoporosis, heart disease, some cancers, and multiple sclerosis, as well as infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and even the seasonal flu.”

B vitamins, also known as B complex, are vital for energy, heart health, metabolism, and the nervous system. The human body does not create B complex; it is absorbed through foods such as whole grain cereal, poultry, meat, dairy, eggs, bananas, and legumes. Paul Elsass, a sports medicine and exercise writer, points out that, “B vitamin deficiency can lead to abnormal growth and development in children, so adequate intake is crucial.” Doses for this group of vitamins are measured in micrograms. For toddlers and young children, about one microgram is needed daily. For older children and teens, about two micrograms.

Finally, vitamin E, although considered a necessary antioxidant in terms of protecting body tissue from free radicals, is not considered necessary to be given as a supplement for two main reasons. Firstly, it is already in many kid-friendly foods such as almonds, peanut butter, cereals, juices, and bread. Therefore, vitamin E deficiency in kids is rare. Secondly, Dr. Vincent Ianneli, a board-certified physician, cautions that, “Too much vitamin E can lead children to have bleeding problems.”

In a 2013 seminar conducted by Harvard Medical School, titled “Food and Vitamins and Supplements! Oh My!”, a panel of experts discussed whether taking a multivitamin is healthy or self-delusional. The panel concurs that the primary and best choice for obtaining vitamins and nutrients is to get them directly from a healthy diet based on fruits and vegetables because they naturally contain a variety of healthful benefits. According to a recent Harvard-led Physicians Health Study (PHSII), taking a multivitamin slightly lowers the risk of cancer. “But if you take a multivitamin already or plan to, don’t let it distract you from eating a varied and nutritious diet,” cautions the study. At the same time, one cannot discount the value of even a slight benefit when it comes to reducing the risk of cancer. Dr. Gaziano, a contributor to the study says, “If you consider even a modest reduction in the risk for a disease as common as cancer in the population at large, it’s not trivial numbers that you’re talking about.”

It is crucial to remember that every child is unique and will undoubtedly have their own health needs, so be sure to consult with a qualified health care provider before beginning or changing any supplemental regimen. While vitamin supplements, when used properly, are a great bio-technological advancement, overusing them can lead to health issues such as nausea, abdominal pain, or neurological harm. As the term implies, supplements are meant to supplement and are by no means a replacement for a balanced diet. Another important thing to note here is that many foods in the United States today are already fortified with vitamins and nutrients, so if your child is eating a balanced diet, supplements may be given only on a needs basis.

In the end, remember that Islam teaches us that the time of youth is blessed and must be used wisely. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said, in a Hadith narrated by Ibn Abbas, “There are two blessings which many people lose: health and free time for doing good.”— Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 6, Hadith 421. Most children are fortunate to be born with these two blessings, and it is for us to ensure that they stay healthy and use their time wisely.

Asma Jarad is a writer and editor. She holds a Master of Arts degree in English Language and Literature from National University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Studies from the University of Illinois.