“A good laugh, a long sleep and a healthy diet are key to fighting infections!”
Infections are all around us, even where we least expect them. There is no way we can exterminate all of them to protect our kids. Protection has to come from within. Immunity is inherent in our bodies, but like everything else, we have to build it up to fight infections. Children are more prone to infections and show a stronger reaction as their bodies are learning about new infections. That is how they build a memory for these infections.
Nutrition in formative years is an important factor in determining a child’s immunity. Research in the past 25 years has established that a good nutritional status and good hygiene reduces the incidence of infections in children and strengthens their immune system. In the article, Nutriton and Immunity- An Introduction, American Society of Clinical Nutrition, RK Chandra states that nutritional deficiencies and being underweight or over-weight were major determinants of immune-deficiencies. You can improve the immunity of your child by including the following simple healthy foods:
1. Citrus fruits: Oranges, grape fruit, lemon, kinnow are rich in Vitamin C which targets specific cells to reduce inflammation. They are high in flavonoids, such as quercetin, rutin, hesperidin, apigenin and tangeretin, which are known to have immune-modulating action. Vitamin C has been proven to maintain the integrity of skin which is the first line of defence in the body.
2. Berries: A handful of berries like strawberry, kiwi, blueberry and gooseberry go a long way in immune-regulation. They are rich in pigments of various colours which slow down the spread of infection and increase the number of body cells fighting infection. They also are rich in Vitamin C, which has been long known to have immune-enhancing action. Ellagic acid present in strawberries, raspberries and pomegranate are potent in detoxifying the liver. But before you give berries to your kid, make sure that they are not allergic to them.
3. Red colour fruits: Lycopene represents red colour, which is found abundantly in tomatoes, watermelon, apple and pink grape fruit. They are very rich in anti-oxidants which help the immune system by reducing harmful oxidative stress. They help in activation of T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes (body’s defence mechanism), multiplication of lymphocytes and production of antibodies and cytokines. In fact, the saying that "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" is not without reason. Give your child an apple to munch on every day for red apples are rich in quercetin, which boosts and fortifies the immune system.
4. Green leafy vegetables: Spinach is of great importance here. It contains carotenoids, Lutein and Zeaxanthin which reduce oxidative stress and help in improving the immune-response. It is also an amazing source of vitamins (vitamin K, vitamin A, folate, vitamin C, vitamin B6), minerals (manganese, potassium and magnesium) and fibre. These nutrients are helpful in increasing antibody production and play a role in the healthy working of the spleen, thymus and thyroid gland which are antibody storage and production organs.
5. Sunflower seeds: Try giving your little one sunflower seeds to boost her immunity. They are loaded with nutrients and vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant and is vital for regulating and maintaining the proper functioning of the immune system.
These seeds are also rich in phosphorous, magnesium, and vitamin B-6.
6. Fluids: Water washes out the toxins in the body and acts as a cleanser. It cleanses the body of the by-products produced and increases uptake of oxygen by cells thus boosting immunity.
It is important to ensure that toddlers consume 1-1.5 litres of fluids every day. This should include milk, water and juices. Young kids get dehydrated very easily, so we must ensure that they drink fluids at regular intervals. The best way to do this is to give them a sipper cup or a bottle which they identify as their own! Some kids may not like drinking plain water although it’s the best option. You could offer them mildly flavoured water with diluted fresh juices. 100% fruit juices are not a good option as they are full of sugar and high in calories which may lead to weight gain, diarrhoea and caries in teeth.
7. Nuts: They are rich in good quality proteins, healthy fats, selenium, magnesium, iron, calcium, copper, phosphorus, manganese, fibre, vitamin A and vitamin E. Hazel nuts when consumed with milk are very good for repair of genetic material (DNA) and for increasing the formation of RBC. Walnuts are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and when eaten after soaking them overnight, help in reducing inflammation and swellings. Chestnuts help in repairing the small blood vessels and improve the blood supply to infected areas.
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8. Select non-vegetarian foods: Chicken, eggs and fish are all excellent sources of good quality proteins essential for proper functioning of the immune system as long as they are cooked in a healthy way. Avoid serving these food items fried and try to boil, steam or grill them.
Specific amino acids like arginine, glutamine and cysteine are important in initiating the lymphocytic activity. Additionally, methionine, glutamate and threonine help in improving the immunity derived from the intestines. All these amino acids maintain the integrity, growth and function of the intestines, regularize the cytokine response, increase the number of T-lymphocytes and increase antibody (immunoglobulin) secretion as well.
9. Greek yoghurt: Is a very good source of protein and probiotics. Almost 50% of the immune system of our children resides in the intestines. Probiotics are good bacteria which fight the bad bacteria in the intestines. Greek yogurt is easy to digest and low in lactose, and hence suitable for lactose intolerant children.
10. Dates and figs: Dates are rich in iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, fibre, antioxidants, folate and vitamin A. This nutritious food improves the immune action by increasing the number of specific lymphocytes responsible for inflammations and recovery from infections.
The author is a nutritionist and Consultant Dietician at Asha Kiran JHC Hospital, Pune.
Did you know that food is not the only thing that can weaken or strengthen your child's immunity? In fact, certain habits can play a major role in weakening the immunity of your child. Read through the following article to know what some of these habits are.