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Feeding Your Child to Support Their Immune System

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In-built protection

The nutrients that can boost their immune system

Your child’s immune system is still developing and will continue to become stronger and more complex well into adulthood. Minor childhood illnesses help to strengthen your child’s immune system, and their diet provides more support in the form of immune-enhancing nutrients. Learn which nutrients play a key role in the development of their immune system and lifelong health, and how to make sure your child gets the variety they need.

Strengthening your child’s immune system

Your child’s immune system is continually changing, adapting and strengthening in response to external factors. Exposure to germs helps the immune system learn how to defend itself and builds resistance to infections. The food they eat helps to support their natural defences, so they can fight off illness effectively. As a parent, you can support their developing immune system by providing a healthy, balanced diet. A wide range of nutrient-rich foods, as well as good sources of prebiotics, will help to build up their immunity and contribute to their long-term health.

The main nutrients and vitamins that will help to strengthen your child’s immune system are:

Probiotics

Probiotics are living microorganisms, or “live bacteria” that are good for the digestive system1 which leads to a better immune system. They help with digestion and the immune system function2 by strengthening the microbes that line your child’s guts so these microbes can continue playing a positive role in supporting the body’s defence system.

Probiotics can be attained through supplements and naturally from food that has gone through bacterial fermentation. Here are some examples of food that contain probiotics and live cultures:

    ● Yogurt
    ● Kefir3   
     
● Kombucha
    ● Tempeh
    ● Kimchi

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are mainly made from undigested fibre that is fermented by the time it reaches the large colon and serve as food for probiotics. A healthy level of probiotics is required to defend the body against potentially harmful bacteria. Thereby, foods containing prebiotics provide a natural boost for your child’s immune system. These include:

    ● Onion
    ● Apple
    ● Banana
    ● Flax Seed
    ● Cabbage
    ● Oat

Iron

Iron plays a key role in the formation of haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen around the body. It supports normal cognitive development for children and a lack of it can affect the immune system. In fact, not getting enough iron on a regular basis might affects the immune system.

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Including iron-rich foods like red meats or apricots in your child’s healthy, balanced diet can help support their immune system.

It is recommended that children of the age 6 and below require 6mg of iron per day4. But, even with the best intentions, it can be challenging to make sure your child meets their daily iron needs.

Try to include the following iron-rich foods in your child’s healthy, balanced diet to help strengthen their immune system:

    ● Meat – especially red meat
    ● Liver – limit their intake to one portion per week to avoid getting too much
       vitamin A
    ● Beans
    ● Nuts
    ● Dried fruit such as dried apricots
    ● Wholegrains such as brown rice
    ● Fortified growing up milks
    ● Fortified breakfast cereals
    ● Soya bean flour
    ● Dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach and curly kale

Zinc

Zinc, a mineral found in all of the body’s tissue, has a number of important functions. As well as aiding the creation of new cells and the enzymes needed to support your child’s immune system, it also helps to heal wounds.

The body doesn’t store zinc, so it’s important to include good sources in your child’s diet each day. Foods containing zinc include:

    ● Meat
    ● Milk
    ● Cheese
    ● Bread
    ● Cereal products

Vitamin D2

Vitamin D plays a part in your child’s immune function, growth and defence against infections5. It is also linked to the prevention of allergies.

The most effective source of vitamin D is sunlight – the body produces it when UVB rays shine on the skin. However, frequent and prolonged exposure to UV rays might be the increase the risk of cancer. Therefore, it would be great to include Vitamin D2 into their diet. The number of food sources is also limited in comparison to other vitamins, and even the richest sources contain insufficient amounts.

For this reason, healthcare professionals recommend that children are supplemented with vitamin D, either in the form of vitamin drops or a fortified growing up milk.

Food sources of vitamin D include:

    ● Oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel
    ● Eggs
    ● AptaGroTM Growing Up Formula Milk

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is needed by white blood cells to fight infection and is a natural antioxidant. It helps to protect cells and keep your child healthy, while aiding the healing process and increasing the body’s ability to absorb iron.

Support your child’s immune system and general health by including vitamin C-rich foods in their diet every day. These include:

    ● Peppers
    ● Broccoli
    ● Brussels sprouts
    ● Sweet potatoes
    ● Oranges
    ● Kiwi fruit

VItamin A

Vitamin A supports your child’s immune system by playing a role in the generation of antibody responses and the function of immune cells.

Your child can get vitamin A from:

    ● Cheese
    ● Eggs
    ● Fortified low-fat spreads
    ● Yogurt
    ● Dark green and orange vegetables and fruit – these contain beta-carotene, a 
       substance that the body can convert into vitamin A. Good sources include carrots, 
       sweet potatoes, swede, mango, spinach, dark green cabbage and kale

Reference:

1.      Borchers, A. T., Selmi, C., Meyers, F. J., Keen, C. L., & Gershwin, E. M. (2009). Probiotics and immunity. Journal of Gastroenterology, 44, 26–46. doi: DOI 10.1007/s00535-008-2296-0

2.      Jenab M, Slimani N, Bictash M, Ferrari P, Bingham SA. Biomarkers in nutritional epidemiology: applications, needs and new horizons. Hum Genet. 2009;125(5–6):507–25

3.      Garrote GL, Abraham AG, De Antoni GL. Chemical and microbiological characterization of kefir grains. J Dairy Res. 2001;68(4):639–52.

4.      Recommended Nutrient Intakes for Malaysia (2017). Retrieved from http://nutrition.moh.gov.my/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/FA-Buku-RNI.pdf

5.      Baeke F. 2010. Vitamin D: modulator of the immune system. Curr Opin Pharmacol. 10 (4): 482-496