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Nutritional Health|10 July 2022

Immunity Boosting Foods for Kids

Written by Aahat Sajnani
Ms. Aahat is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with experience in medical nutrition therapy. She takes consultations for nutrition-related medical conditions, including obesity, polycystic ovary syndrome, diabetes, eating disorders, and gastrointestinal infections. Ms. Aahat earned her master’s degree in Dietetics from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, in 2018. Soon after, she obtained the Registered Dietitian credential from the Commission on Dietetic Registration, USA. Since then, she has worked with clients to improve their nutrition status, eating habits, lifestyle and general wellbeing.

Children get sick easily and often, usually due to their developing immune systems. With children set to return to in-person school, many parents across the country are wondering how to improve immunity in kids in order to keep them healthy and protected during the school year. 

Along with having a healthy lifestyle that includes enough sleep, physical activity, and handwashing, children can also be immunized from having a well-balanced diet with the correct nutrients to keep diseases at bay. Eating fruits and vegetables is key in a well-balanced diet, and will help your child thrive with their environmental exposures and growing bodies. 

Vitamins A, C, D, protein, and zinc are some nutrients that support immune function, and are found in many different foods. So which foods are the best for building your child’s immunity? 

We share 8 of our favourite immunity boosting foods for kids below:

1. Nuts and seeds

Most nuts and seeds are packed full of Vitamin E, which provides support to our body’s natural defense system. They’re also full of healthy fats, which can help boost a child’s brain function. Nuts and seeds are an easy way to improve your child’s diet because they can be stored for a long time, come in lots of different flavours (roasted, salted, candied), and can be crumbled on top of many dishes you cook at home. 

2. Berries

Berries are an easy way to naturally boost your child’s immunity as they contain antioxidants, which help the immune system fight against oxidative stress. They are also an incredibly versatile fruit, and can be used in many different ways. Our favourite ways to use berries are: blended in a smoothie with some milk and banana, on top of some oats for breakfast, or packed in a lunch tiffin for a sweet snack during school. 

3. Leafy greens 

Leafy greens tops our list of best immunity boosting food for kids and why not. Veggies like Spinach and Kale contain high amounts of Vitamin A which protects us from viruses. It is therefore a very important vitamin to have in our diets especially as children go back to school. Many Indian dishes already contain cooked spinach, and it’s easy to put some spinach in daal or other regular household foods. Having uncooked spinach is also good for your child’s health, so try making salads with tasty dressings or a little bit of cheese on top to encourage your child to eat more greens. 

4. Oranges

Oranges contain lots of Vitamin C, a vitamin that supports immune function by helping the body build new cells. Luckily, oranges are super delicious and most children enjoy their flavour. They’re also very easy to wash, slice, and put in a tiffin for a snack at school. As a side note, Vitamin C can also be found in cherries, peppers, broccoli, lemons, limes, kiwi, kale, and brussel sprouts.

P.S. We recommend buying fresh orange juice or squeezing it at home for a fresher taste.

5. Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes, and especially the Indian variety, are very high in beta-carotene which helps us make white blood cells and protects us from viruses. We like sweet potatoes in a simple masala fry with minimal oil, in a tomato-based curry, or just simply baked with a spoon. They also contain lots of Vitamin A and C. 

6. Mushrooms

Mushrooms contain a special kind of nutrient called beta-glucans which have been shown to boost the immune system in some clinical studies. There are many different types of mushrooms available in grocery stores, and all taste great, but some mushrooms are ‘adaptogenic’, which means they boost the immune system and potentially reduce the effects of stress from the body. Some of these mushrooms include reishi and lion’s mane. We enjoy mushrooms as toppings on pizza, in pasta sauce, or mixed with peas in a simple tomato curry. 

7. Red Capsicum

We know that Vitamin C is an important nutrient to help boost your child’s immunity, and while many think that citrus fruits contain high amounts of Vitamin C, red capsicum contains nearly 3 times more. Blend it up in a smoothie, add it to a salad, use it as a pizza topping, or dip it in some hummus – the possibilities are endless.   

8. Garlic and Ginger

A staple in Indian cooking, garlic and ginger are key foods that promote good health. Garlic has been recognized to prevent infection for many centuries, and ginger helps decrease inflammation and nausea that can be experienced when your child is sick. Together, both ingredients are key to boosting your child’s immune system. Fortunately, these ingredients form the base of most Indian dishes, so if your child is eating traditional recipes often, they should be getting enough garlic and ginger to help keep them protected against illness. 

What about supplements? 

Usually, your child can gain all the nutrients they need to be healthy through a balanced diet, filled with lots of fresh and colorful fruits and vegetables. But if you’re wondering what else you can do to support your child’s immune health, especially when they go to school and interact with other children everyday, we suggest supplementing with Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to increased risk of infection, and unfortunately it is only found in a limited number of foods. The supplements are easy to find and  available in many different forms, but we still recommend that you always speak with your doctor before introducing new supplements in your child’s diet. 

Protein, Fats, Carbohydrates: Which matters the most?

Each of these macronutrients are present in immunity boosting foods for kids and should be included in your child’s diet for healthy growth and development. In particular, protein is important for healing and recovery, which means a diet high in protein can provide great support to the immune system. This means high-protein foods, like beans, lentils, chickpeas, and tofu are a good choice. Healthy fats, like those found in nuts and seeds, contain lots of Vitamin E that is an antioxidant that boosts immunity. Carbohydrates are important for providing energy, allowing your child to function well in school and at home. 

What else can we do?

When considering how to increase immunity in kids, evidence shows that diet is a key part. Other than focusing on diet, it is important to make sure your child is living an active lifestyle and doing exercise they like, practicing good hygiene habits such as washing hands and wearing a mask when necessary, and minimizing stress by doing relaxing activities that they enjoy. These are all important in maintaining good health in everyday life. 

In conclusion, including the foods above in your child’s diet is a great way to boost their immunity, but as long as they’re eating a balanced diet that is high in protein, fresh fruit and vegetables, and healthy fats, your child should have a healthy and strong immune system to protect them throughout the school year.

References:

  • Hughes, D. (1999). Effects of carotenoids on human immune function. Proceedings Of The Nutrition Society, 58(3), 713-718. doi: 10.1017/s0029665199000932
  • Mrityunjaya, M., Pavithra, V., Neelam, R., Janhavi, P., Halami, P., & Ravindra, P. (2020). Immune-Boosting, Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Food Supplements Targeting Pathogenesis of COVID-19. Frontiers In Immunology, 11. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2020.570122
  • Shakoor, H., Feehan, J., Al Dhaheri, A., Ali, H., Platat, C., & Ismail, L. et al. (2021). Immune-boosting role of vitamins D, C, E, zinc, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids: Could they help against COVID-19?. Maturitas, 143, 1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2020.08.003

The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

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