Kids need a symphony of vitamins and minerals to grow healthy and strong. One of the most vital of these is vitamin D. But what is vitamin D, and why is it so important for kids’ health?
In this post, we’ll talk about the role of vitamin D for children, the best sources, and what to do if your child needs more of this essential vitamin.
What is vitamin D (aka “the sunshine vitamin”)?
Vitamin D is a truly unique vitamin. Unlike other essential vitamins, we get it not only from diet. We can make it ourselves—through our skin!
When the sun’s rays touch your skin, a special cholesterol in skin cells converts the sun’s energy into a substance that will become vitamin D in your body.
So, that's how your body makes its very own vitamin D with a little help from the sun!
We also get vitamin D from our diets. As we'll discuss, it’s a fat-soluble vitamin that’s mostly found in fatty foods.
Why is vitamin D essential for kids’ health?
Vitamin D has many, many health benefits, some of which are just being explored by researchers.
Here, we’ll talk about how vitamin D helps build bones, reduce infections, support mood, keep muscles healthy, promote digestion, and prevent chronic diseases later in life!
Kids need vitamin D for strong, healthy bones
You probably think of calcium when you think of strong bones and teeth. But vitamin D is a bone-builder, too!
Think of vitamin D as the key that unlocks the body's ability to use calcium, which is the main building block of our bones and teeth. Without enough vitamin D, our bodies can't absorb the calcium it needs from food. With enough vitamin D, kids can make good use of bone-building minerals.
Parents can also teach kids about the lifelong importance of vitamin D for bone and teeth health. Even after kids stop growing, vitamin D helps keep bones dense and strong, preventing them from becoming weak or brittle with age.
Vitamin D helps keep the doctor away (by supporting kids’ immunity)
Sometimes vitamin D doesn’t get enough attention as an infection fighter. But vitamin D is an immunity superstar! There’s solid evidence that vitamin D supplements reduce the rate of infection in kids.
It’s been shown that vitamin D (along with vitamin C and zinc) protects against the common cold and flu, reducing the length and severity of these infections.
While getting enough is protective, getting too little can make kids vulnerable to illnesses. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased autoimmunity and even susceptibility to infection.
How does it work? Vitamin D helps activate T cells, the immune system defenders that detect and destroy pathogens.
All of which is a science-y way of saying that vitamin D may keep the sick days away!
Vitamin D helps keep kids’ moods sunny
Next to keeping your kids healthy, you want to keep them happy and calm!
In good news, vitamin D positively influences our “happy hormones,” serotonin and dopamine.
Vitamin D may even shield us from the winter blues. (Kids and teens can get the winter blues, too!) Research shows that those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD tend to be vitamin D deficient.
Of course, physical and mental health are related, and the key is balance! When vitamin D levels are optimal, research suggests kids will be better able to regulate their moods.
Little heroes need vitamin D for muscle health
We usually think of protein as key for kids’ muscles. But did you know that vitamin D is essential for muscles, too?
Vitamin D increases the “synthesis” of protein, so kids can build muscles. It also helps muscles contract, which is how they do everything from walking and running to skipping and dancing.
Research shows that getting enough vitamin D in early life can even improve our ratio of lean muscle mass to fat!
Vitamin D also keeps muscles from getting weak, tired, and achy, which can definitely be a concern for some little people.
For strong muscles that feel good, kids should get enough vitamin D!
Vitamin D is good for the gut (little tummies, too!)
This shouldn’t be a surprise because immunity and gut health are so closely linked! Scientists now believe that over 70% of immunity is in the gut.
In fact, the lining of the digestive system is a barrier that keeps out pathogens and allows good nutrients to be absorbed. Vitamin D helps maintain the health of that lining… This means more good stuff gets in, and more bad stuff stays out!
As you may know, a healthy gut is sustained by healthy gut bacteria. Some research shows that vitamin D might help these friendly microorganisms thrive.
Some promising research even suggests that vitamin D could be beneficial for people with digestive conditions.
Vitamin D is a heart-helper
Vitamin D might play a role in heart health. Some research suggests that it may help regulate blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease, although more research is needed to fully understand this relationship.
Most kids have excellent cardiovascular health, so take this information in stride. Just know that vitamin D is important for heart health. Your goal now is to get them into the habits that will safeguard their heart health for life.
Vitamin D may protect against chronic disease
Vitamin D can also protect kids against chronic diseases. For example, there’s a link between diabetes and low vitamin D.
Research may not have all the answers yet, but we know this nutrient is essential. If our bodies use up precious energy to make vitamin D from the sun, there’s a good reason for it!
How much vitamin D do kids need?
The evidence is in! It’s clear that kids need enough vitamin D to grow healthy and strong.
How much is enough?
Aim to meet the minimum requirement of 600 IU/day for kids ages 1-18. But don’t exceed the following upper or maximum intake levels for vitamin D:
- Infants (0-6 months): 1,000 IU/day
- Infants (6-12 months): 1,500 IU/day
- Children (1-3 years): 2,500 IU/day
- Children (4-8 years): 3,000 IU/day
- Children and Teens (9-18 years): 4,000 IU/day
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing with most nutrients! But the only way most kids will ever get too much is if they gobble up supplements like candies (taking more than the recommended dose).
How to keep your kid’s vitamin D levels healthy
There are three ways to get enough vitamin D:
- Sunshine on bare skin (which means no sunscreen, and we’ll talk about why that’s complicated)
- A vitamin-D-rich diet (think salmon, eggs, and vitamin-D-fortified foods)
- Supplementing with vitamin D3 for kids
Let’s cover parents' top questions about each option.
Is sunlight the best source of vitamin D for kids?
The fact that we can make vitamin D from the sun’s rays is incredible! Is it enough, though?
Here’s the catch! To make vitamin D, you need sun on bare skin with no sunblock or sunscreen. Depending on the UV levels on any given day, kids’ skin can burn fast, so keep your sun exposure safe.
Other studies show that in winter, you may need nearly two hours of noon-time sun exposure to get enough vitamin D! That’s why getting enough sunlight on our skin can be tricky during the long, dark winter months. (Brrrrrrrr!) That’s why it’s very common for kids’ vitamin D levels to drop in the winter.
Don’t worry, sunlight is not your only option for vitamin D!
Can kids get enough vitamin D from foods?
We always recommend that kids eat a vitamin D-rich diet if they can. The top sources are:
- Fatty Fish: Salmon, mackerel, and sardines are among the best natural sources. The exact amount of vitamin D can vary depending on the type of fish and whether it's wild or farmed.
- Fortified Foods: Milk and plant-based milk alternatives are often fortified with vitamin D, as are some cereals, juices, yogurts and more. Check the label to find out and do the math. (Kids need a minimum of 600 IU/day, so fortified foods may not be enough!)
- Egg Yolks: The sunny part of eggs also delivers the sunshine vitamin. Chickens raised outdoors or fed vitamin D-enriched feed produce eggs that are higher in this vitamin. Most eggs will deliver under 100 IU of vitamin D.
- Mushrooms: Certain types can provide vitamin D, especially if they've been exposed to UV light. However, plants provide vitamin D2, a form that isn't as effective as the vitamin D3 found in animal products.
Got a kid who loves these foods? We’ve pulled together some kid-approved vitamin D recipes for inspiration.
Parenting a child with a particular palate? You’re not alone. A lot of kids don’t eat these foods or don’t eat enough to meet their requirements.
No wonder 50-70% of kids in the US have a vitamin D deficiency! However, your kid can beat the odds!
Is a vitamin D supplement the best option for kids?
Supplements take the worry out of getting your kid the vitamin D they need. No need to measure minutes of exposed skin in sunlight. No need to measure their serving of salmon. With a supplement, you have the certainty of knowing for sure.
Is there a risk they’ll get too much of a good thing with a supplement?
A quality kid’s vitamin D (like Renzo’s Dynamite Vitamin D3) is formulated to deliver just enough without reaching the upper limit of intake. That means you have wiggle room. If they happen to get more vitamin D from diet and sun that day, they’re still safe.
Speaking of quality…
Not all kids' vitamin D supplements are equal!
There are a few factors to consider when choosing a kid’s vitamin D supplement.
- Look for vitamin D3: The sunshine vitamin exists as vitamin D2 and D3—and there is a major difference. Vitamin D2 is a cheaper form and less effective. So check the label closely!
- Sugar: Too many kid’s vitamins are loaded with sugar in one form or another, and this type of “hidden sugar” adds up. (Gummy vitamins may be the worst offenders because they stick to teeth, giving sugar bugs more time to create cavities!)
- Taste: Kids’ supplements have to pass the taste test! Otherwise, persuading kids to take them every day is almost impossible. The holy grail? A vitamin kids will remind you about!
A lot to ask from a vitamin? Not to worry, our supplement science team has worked hard to create a formula that ticks all the boxes (for parents and kids)!
Renzo’s Dynamite D3 for children is not only sugar-free, it’s yummy, too. (Check out the reviews to hear it from parents.) It’s a Lil' Green Apple-flavored melty tab that protects against cavities.
Plus, it's 100% vegan, so no sheep were harmed in the making:) #savethesheep
Conclusion: Vitamin D is indispensable for kids
Now you know!
Vitamin D is essential for everything from kids’ immunity to growing strong, feeling happy, and building a foundation of health for life.
You also know that most kids in the US are not getting nearly enough vitamin D from sunlight or from diet. That’s why a kid-formulated vitamin D supplement is the most dependable solution. (Just make it vitamin D3, please!)
To keep your kiddo covered, check out Renzo’s Dynamite D3. It’s the “Sunshine in a Bottle” solution for kids’ vitamin D needs.