A balance mix of all major nutrients along with essential vitamins and minerals, can keep your child’s immune system strong. Good nutrition helps in early recovery, more efficiently and leading to less complications.
When children get exposed to viruses or pathogens, someone with a weakened immune system is more vulnerable to catch infection than one with a healthy one.
Parents just feel helpless not realising that eating immune boosting foods, for proper functioning of the immune system following nutrients play an important role:
Zinc: It supports immune system by reducing the duration of common cold, incidence of diarrhoea and respiratory tract infections among children. It also helps in wound healing and has antioxidant properties which reduce free radical damage to cells and tissues in our body.
Pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, ajwain and cashew are good sources of zinc.
Vitamin C: This enables your body to synthesize white blood cells which help fight off infections. If taken regularly, it helps reduce the duration and severity of colds, and helps manage respiratory tract infections. It forms collagen in bones and muscles, is a wound healer and keeps your child’s teeth and gums healthy.
To reap the benefits of vitamin C, your child must consume parsley, capsicum, guava , amla, strawberries, kiwi, lemon, sweet lime (mosambi), orange, tamarind, papaya, green mango, radish (muli) leaves, cabbage, green chillies, cauliflower, bitter gourd and broccoli.
Good dietary sources of Vitamin D are eggs and fish like mackerel, sardines and salmon.
Vitamin E: It plays numerous roles in our body due to its antioxidant properties, which prevent cells and tissues from environmental and free radical damage. Food sources of vitamin E are sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachio, wheat germ and vegetable oils.
Vitamin A and beta carotene: It increases the number of infection fighting cells. Our body converts beta carotene to vitamin A which has antioxidant properties and immune boosting functions.
Consume a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables, containing carotenoids like mango, papaya, muskmelon, watermelon, carrot, tomato, dates, sweet potato, lettuce and spinach.
Vitamin B: These provide energy from the food we eat and are important for healthy skin, eyes, liver and brain function. It is also required to produce haemoglobin; its deficiency can result in anaemia with symptoms like fatigue.
Try to give your child enough Vitamin B6 from fish which is the richest source and from moderate sources like banana, sunflower seeds, walnuts, pistachio, chicken and eggs.
Magnesium: It controls various chemical reactions in the body, is overall important for your child’s stomach and digestive function along with providing protection to the immune system. This mineral is often overlooked but needs attention.
Incorporate bajra, ragi, jowar, whole wheat flour, maize flour, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, kidney beans, chickpeas, soybean, urad dal, whole moong dal, rajgira, etc. in your child’s diet.
Selenium: It provides protection from certain viral infections. Include fish, eggs, sesame seeds, mushrooms, chia seeds (sabja), pulses and legumes, cereals and whole wheat in your diet.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids help in maintaining healthy cell membrane and reduce the formation of inflammatory compounds. It is also helpful for overcoming mood, behaviour and attention issues in children.
As the human body cannot produce it on its own, it is essential to have food rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are found in fish like salmon, herring, mackerel, tuna, oil sardines, flaxseeds (alsi), spinach and nuts.
Proteins: Consuming too little protein can weaken your child’s immune system. Include cereals, pulses and dals, soybean, milk and milk products, chicken, fish and eggs to meet your child’s essential amino acid requirement.
Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body and has to be provided from food so that children grow and function optimally as its deficiency might result in weight loss, infections and muscle weakness among children.
The author is the chief clinical nutritionist at Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi