A few years ago, my wife and I were blessed with the birth of our twin children. The twins came early at 25 weeks, so we spent our first 5 months as a family in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of a hospital. It was a bumpy beginning, but one which was enriched with many lessons. One of these was in the area of nutrition. Children were given synthetic liquid supplements that they repeatedly threw back up. Some of the doctors who attended the children had tried these liquid supplements and found them to be very disgusting to ingest, yet this was all they had to give to the children. We watched the faces of doctors who had not yet tried these liquid nutrients as their faces contorted upon tasting them and they ran out of the room to wash it down with water. One of the doctors who knew that I knew quite a bit about nutrition through my practice told me that if I developed better nutrients, he would be glad to give them to the children in the NICU. It was an idea that was planted in the back of my head and eventually one that would lead to the creation of Magical Nutrients.
I soon discovered that the challenge with children’s supplements, and adults to for that matter, is that nutrients in a supplement form don’t taste good, giving weight to the old adage that if doesn’t taste good, it must be good for you. Some nutrients are more notorious for their bad taste, which is why many children’s multi-vitamins don’t include them. One problem here is that those same bad-tasting nutrients which are excluded, are also important for growing children. As adults, we don’t commonly encounter these tastes, as the supplements we take come in a capsule or coated tablet form. This becomes a limitation with children when their ability to swallow pills hasn’t developed yet.
As we began to look closer at the children’s supplement industry, we were surprised to see how this obstacle was addressed. As stated previously, some companies addressed this partially by eliminating a few of the worse tasting, but important nutrients. Almost all companies chose to address this by adding lots of sugar to their formulas, believing that children will consume anything sweet. We soon discovered that there‘s a belief, or rationale, in the children’s supplement industry that sugar is okay to place in children’s supplements, because that’s the only way that you’ll get kids to take supplements. As Jack Challam, author of over 20 nutrition books states, “The benefits of getting a kid to take a vitamin outweigh the risks of some extra sugar (1).” What we found out however, wasn’t a little extra added sugar, but lots of it.
Sugars are known to deplete vitamins and minerals from the body. As an example, if you take the typical multi-vitamin that is given to children and check the list of nutrients on the label against a list of which nutrients sugar is known to deplete the body of directly, or indirectly through oxidative stress, you’ll find that every single nutrient on that label is at risk of being depleted by the sugar in the very same formulation. In essence, when children take such a formulation, it is good for the bottom line of the company selling the product, but not for the child.
The problem that I’ve discovered with this goes far beyond the effect of sugars depleting all of the vitamins and minerals in a formulation. The most common form of sugar included in children’s supplements is fructose. Fructose is consistently linked in children to problems of higher blood pressure and fasting blood glucose levels, insulin resistance, obesity, and inflammatory factors that contribute to heart and vascular disease (2). Robert Lustig, MD, a UCSF pediatric neuroendocrinologist, claims that fructose is just as bad as alcohol in causing fat storage in the liver – and in causing fatty liver disease. He goes on to state that, Fructose, a type of carbohydrate, is not metabolized like other foodstuffs, and not even like glucose, the other major carbohydrate (3).
Several types of sugars are associated with immunosuppression. Additionally, these sugars have always had a strong association with the increased incidence of dental caries (4-7). It’s very common to find mommy bloggers complaining about the cavities their 5-year old has from consuming gummy bears. Companies providing nutritional supplements to children need to follow a better model that helps children in the face of the many health challenges that they face today, not compounds them. The average child already consumes more sugar than is considered to be healthy. Morgan et al. (8) reported the average total sugar consumption of a cross-sectional sample of American children ages 5 to 12 yr to be 134g daily.
Obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular are rising in children, partially due to the effects of high sugar consumption. Bibby (9) showed the frequency of sugar intake to be equal to or more important than amount of sugar intake. This is an important consideration when sugar-based multi-vitamins are expected to be consumed twice a day on a daily basis.
At Magical Nutrients, we believe that every child deserves a better life. We combine a natural plant-based sweetener, stevia along with the natural sugar alcohol erythritol. Both have demonstrated anti-cavity effects and neither affects blood sugar levels, while at the same time offering other benefits. The use of both sweeteners is back by research and a centuries-old history of use (10-12). The sweeteners are combined with natural flavors and colors in a base of high quality nutrients to give children the best of all worlds. While we are proud of the high-quality nutrients we provide through our line of children’s supplements, we still encourage parents to provide the majority of all their child’s nutritional needs through organic, whole foods.
4. Fry AJ. Grenby TH. The effects of reduced sucrose intake on the formation and composition of dental plaque in a group of men in the Antarctic. Arch Oral Biol 1974:17:873-82.
5. Carlsson I. Presence of various types of non-haemolytic streptococci in dental plaque and in other sites in the oral cavity. Odont Revy 1967:18:55-74.
6. Carlsson J, Sundstorm B. Variations in composition of early dental plaque following ingestion of sucrose and glucose. Odont Revy l968;l9:161-70.
7. Newbrun E. Sucrose, the arch criminal of dental caries. Odont Revy 1967:18:373-86.
8. Morgan KI, Zabik ME, Cala R, Leveille GA. Nutrient intake patterns for children ages 5 to 12 years based on seven-day food diaries. East Lansing. Ml: Michigan State University, Agricultural Experiment Station, 1980 (Research report no. 406).
9. Bibby BG. Food relationship to caries. Proceedings workshop on cariogenicity of food, beverages, confections, and chewing gum. Am Dent Assoc Health Found, Sept 1977:29-44.
11. GJM den Hartog et al. Erythritol is a sweet antioxidant. Nutrition. 2010 Apr;26(4):449-58. Epub 2009 Jul 24.
12. Mäkinen KK. Sugar alcohol sweeteners as alternatives to sugar with special consideration of xylitol. Med Princ Pract. 2011;20(4):303-20. Epub 2011 May 11.