How Much is Too Much?

Excess Vitamins and Minerals in Food Can Harm Kids’ Health

June 19, 2014

How Much is Too Much? : EWG’s Recommendations

For parents

  • Parents should exercise caution with products with more than 20-25 percent of the adult Daily Value for vitamin A, zinc or niacin, and monitor their children’s intake of these and other foods to ensure that kids do not get too much of these nutrients. As long as the outdated adult Daily Values continue to be used for nutrition labeling, parents must be watchful of the ingredients in the foods their children eat, particularly fortified vitamins and minerals, sugar and trans-fats. Under realistic diet scenarios, products with 20-25 percent or less of the adult Daily Value for vitamin A, zinc or niacin are not likely to pose a risk of excessive intake for children. Products that contain more than 20-25 percent of the adult Daily Value may pose a risk, especially if a child also takes a multivitamin. 
  • Educate yourself about the different forms of vitamin A. There are several forms of vitamin A. The danger of overexposure applies to preformed vitamin A; it does not apply to products with naturally occurring high levels of carotenoids, which are vitamin A precursors. For example, products that contain carrots or pumpkin, which are naturally high in carotenoids, may have a very high percentage of the vitamin A Daily Value on the nutrition label but are considered safe. Preformed vitamin A can appear on the nutrition label as retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin A acetate or retinol. 
  • Read labels carefully to identify what form of vitamin A the product contains and the overall amount added. If the label lists preformed vitamin A at more than 20-25 percent of the adult Daily Value, it could give a child too much vitamin A.

For Policymakers

  • The FDA should finalize its new nutrition label and adjust the adult Daily Values and children’s Daily Values to be in line with current science and the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine.
  • The FDA should require the nutrition labels on products marketed for children to display age-specific percent Daily Values, such as for 1-to-3-year-olds and 4-to-8-year-olds.
  • The FDA should update the cereal serving sizes cited on Nutrition Facts labels to accurately reflect the larger amounts that Americans actually eat.
  • The FDA should modernize its 1980s guidelines on voluntary food supplementation, particularly for products that children eight years old and younger may eat, in order to avoid excessive nutrient exposure from fortified foods.
  • The FDA should limit the use of fortification and nutrient claims as marketing tools.  

For food manufacturers

  • Responsible food manufacturers should avoid over-fortifying products marketed to children.
  • Products children eat should contain no more than the recommended daily allowance for each age group and should never exceed the children’s Tolerable Upper Intake Levels determined by the Institute of Medicine.
  • For products eaten by both children and adults, food manufacturers should list in the nutrition label age-specific daily values for: 1-to-3-year-olds, 4-to-8-year-olds and adults.