There are many unseen enemies that pose a threat to children’s health and wellbeing, especially as they grow out of toddlerhood and start going to school. As a result, parents are always on the lookout for effective and fool-proof ways to strengthen their kids’ immunity. While the child’s physical wellbeing has always been important, immunity has become top of mind these days.
In their growing years, it is not unusual for children to feel a little under the weather. However, a healthy and strong immune system can help your child feel better and recover quicker from minor illnesses by effectively fighting off diseases and infections naturally.
Parents play a pivotal role in helping children improve their immune system by encouraging good habits such as regular hand-washing, periodic check-ups with a doctor, and ensuring enough exercise and sleep1. Another important contributing factor to a child’s immunity is nutrition1. Eating the right nutrients helps immune cells to function well10.
Types of foods that boost immunity for children
Incorporating foods that boost immunity into your child's diet is a surefire way to strengthen his/her immune system by getting their little bodies ready to ward off unwanted intruders.
Below are some of the immunity boosting foods that you can incorporate to your child’s meal and snack times to help strengthen your child’s immunity:
Nuts such as almonds, pistachios, and walnuts are good additions to your child’s snacks2.
These are a good source of zinc, an important mineral in helping the immune system3. Nuts also contain other useful minerals like source protein, fibre, mono- and polyunsaturated fats, potassium, and more3. Just make sure that your child does not have any allergies to nuts to avoid any medical emergency. Also, be mindful that whole nuts can be a choking hazard for toddlers and young children.
Yoghurt contains probiotics. These help to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria and reduce the numbers of harmful bacteria in the gut, thereby supporting both gut health and immunity.
Eggs contain Vitamin D4 and selenium, and can be cooked in a variety of ways that your child will surely enjoy. Whether your child prefers eggs sunny-side-up, hard boiled or scrambled, he/she is sure to get an amazing amount of immunity boost in every bite. However, eggs are also known allergens, and you may need to seek a doctor’s advice before introducing them into your child’s diet, especially if there is known family history of allergy.
There’s a good reason for the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” This is because apples do contain Vitamin C and fibre that promote better digestion and immunity. It’s also a good alternative to sweets and sugary snacks5.
Broccoli is packed with Vitamin C and phytochemicals which have many benefits such as supporting the immune system.
Sweet potatoes and potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a known superfood that are high in Vitamin A. Additionally, the humble and much underestimated white potato is also high in Vitamin C. White potatoes can help your child fight off colds brought about by a change in weather conditions5. Do ensure that you cook the sweet potatoes and potatoes in a healthy way rather than serving them fried or mashed with lots of butter and cheese.
Immunity Boosting Nutrients
As young children's immune systems are still developing, they can be given an additional boost by the right nutrients such as:
This group of vitamins (which consist of vitamins B1, B2, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, biotin, B12 and folic acid) are necessary for producing healthy red blood, as well as supporting a number of metabolic functions. Lean meats, poultry and fish are all healthy sources of B vitamins.
Iron plays an important role in supporting a number of innate responses in your child’s body, which include carrying oxygen to all parts of the body, and promoting healthy muscle metabolism and cell function7. This nutrient can be found in foods such as lean meats, spinach and certain types of iron-fortified formula milk7.
Known to boost immunity, Milk Fat Globule Membrane or MFGM is the natural, nutrient-rich coating that surrounds milk fat. It positively influences the immune system response8.
DHA, commonly found in fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, as well as fortified foods such as fortified milk, is regarded as one of the most fundamental nutrients essential to supporting a child's growth and immune development9.
Prebiotics, because of their effect on gastrointestinal health, are also good immunity boosters10. Given their significant benefits, do make sure they are a part of your child’s diet.
Beta-Glucan is found in foods such as oats, barley and yeast. Yeast Beta-Glucan in particular has been shown to support immune health11. This is due to the fact that Beta-Glucan derived from yeast possesses immunomodulatory effects, which include the activation of innate, cellular and humoral immunity such macrophages, neutrophils and natural killer cells11.
Beta-carotene can be absorbed by the body through the consumption of fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, green leafy vegetables and oranges12. A rich source of antioxidants, this nutrient is essential for boosting your child’s immune system and supporting the production of disease-fighting cells in your child’s body12.
An intake of iodine is necessary for supporting several different biochemical reactions in the body13. Alternatively, it can help to strengthen a child’s immune system13. Iodine can be found in dairy products, fish and seafood.
A diet which includes the optimal level of the above immunity boosting nutrients can help to strengthen your child’s immune system. As parents, you can’t always be physically present to shield your child against viruses and bacteria. What you can do is ensure that your child’s diet strengthens and boosts his/her immune system so it can protect him/her in the months and years ahead, allowing them to explore the world with little worry.
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Dr. Raymond Choy Wai Mun
MBChB (UK), Aviation Medicine (Singapore)
- Immune System During Pregnancy are Precisely Timed ( 2017 ) retrieved September 25, 2020 from https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2017/09/immune-system-changes-during-pregnancy-are-precisely-timed.html
- Nuts, health, and kids (n.d.). Retrieved on October 9, 2020 from https://nutritionaustralia.org/fact-sheets/nuts-health-and-kids/
- How to Boost Your Kid’s Immunity Heading Into the New School Year (August 26, 2020). Retrieved on October 9, 2020 from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-boost-your-kids-immunity-heading-into-the-new-school-year/
- Vitamin D (Last reviewed Feb 2018). Retrieved on October 9, 2020 from https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/vitamins-minerals/vitamin-d.html
- Get your fill of fall superfoods (2014). Retrieved on September 24, 2020 from https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/get-your-fill-of-fall-superfoods
- Broccoli compound boost for immune health (Last updated July 19, 2008). Retrieved November 27, 2020 from https://www.nutraingredients.com/Article/2008/03/07/Broccoli-compound-boost-for-immune-health
- 10 Iron-Risch Foods Your Toddler Needs (n.d). Retrieved November 27, 2020 from https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/iron-rich-foods-for-toddlers
- Modulation of immune function by milk fat globule membrane isolates (2014). Retrieved on September 24, 2020 from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022030214001258
- In Time: Importance of Omega 3 in Children's Nutrition (2017). Retrieved on September 24,2020 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5417803/
- Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications (2019). Retrieved on September 24, 2020 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6463098/
- Yeast beta-glucan: An immunomodulator or just a food supplement? (n.d). Retrieved on November 27, 2020 from https://www.bhecentre.com/2019/10/29/yeast-beta-glucan-an-immunomodulator-or-just-a-food-supplement/
- Foods To Boost the Immune System (2020). Retrieved September 25, 2020 from https://www.pcrm.org/news/blog/foods-boost-immune-system
- A Role for Iodide and Thyroglobulin in Modulating the Function of Human Immune Cells (November 15 2017) Retrieved November 5, 2020 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5694785/