In an age of global pandemics, a strong and healthy immune system can give your child an edge in life and good nutrition is the foundation of a strong immune system. While a balanced diet made up of the required amounts of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins & minerals is important, there are many specific nutrients that have a positive effect on the immune system. Making sure your child gets these is important. Let’s look at some of these nutrients and the best ways you can introduce them into your child’s diet.
Vitamin A, Folic Acid, Vitamin B6 & B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Zinc and other essential fatty acids and amino acids have been linked to having a positive effect on immunity in children and adults. So, your focus should always be on getting a variety of foods rich in these nutrients into your child’s diet. (Karacabey K, Ozdemir N (2012) The Effect of Nutritional Elements on the Immune System. J Obes Wt Loss Ther 2:152. doi:10.4172/2165-7904.1000152).
Let’s take a look at what foods are rich in these nutrients and how you can easily incorporate these into your child’s diet.
It is commonly known that fruits and veggies are great for you; they’re packed with vitamins, minerals, which contains phytonutrients that are also high in antioxidant properties (WHO, 2003 https://bit.ly/2FVDBTe).
Recommendations for the amount of fruit and vegetables children should eat are based on a child’s age, gender and level of physical activity. Recommendations range from 1-2 cups for fruit and 1-3 cups for vegetables. However in general a child aged between 4 - 13 years of age should be consuming about 1 and a half cups of vegetables and 1 and a half cups of fruit per day. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2005 https://bit.ly/2Ywxo6N).
A recently published WHO report recommended a minimum intake of 400g of fruit and vegetables per day, excluding potatoes and other starchy tubers for the prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity, as well as for the prevention and alleviation of several micronutrient deficiencies (Measuring the intake of fruit and vegetables, Agudo, Antonio 2005 Pg.18). However, adding vegetables to meals may pose to be a challenge at times. This can be overcome by including vegetables in tasty dishes such as soups, bakes, fried rice dishes, pasta, curries, stir fries and other delicious foods that kids will enjoy. Your goal should be to make your child “eat the rainbow”, meaning different coloured fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Their varying colours signify varied nutrients.
Eggs and fish are excellent sources of proteins and fats. For active kids, you can include a sufficient helping of these foods in their daily diets. Oily types of fish are recommended as they are high in omega 3 and 6 and vitamin A and D. Examples of oily fish that can easily be found in Sri Lanka include Thalapath, Balaya and Kelawalla fish.
These are excellent sources of zinc, vitamin B, calcium and iron. All of these nutrients are essential for a strong immune system. Consuming whole grains also has other health benefits which may reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity. Whether it’s red rice, whole grain bread, pasta or other food stuffs, it’s easy to incorporate these into your child’s diet in a delicious and tasty way.
Nuts, seeds and nut butters are excellent sources of vitamin E, zinc and magnesium which helps boost immunity and assist with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins like A, D, K. These nutrients are important for healthy growth and a proper functioning immune system. Additionally, many nuts also provide essential fatty acids that are required for good brain development and fibre which boosts production of the protein interleukin-4 and stimulates the body's infection-fighting T-cells.(Karacabey K, Ozdemir N (2012) The Effect of Nutritional Elements on the Immune System. J Obes Wt Loss Ther 2:152. doi:10.4172/2165-7904.1000152). The best thing about nuts and seeds are that they are easily incorporated into the diet as a healthy snack or as ingredients in other dishes.
Mrs. Shayana Ameresekere MHumNutr (Aus) RNutr(Aus)