A question that I get asked a lot by the parents of patients I see in my clinic is ….how can I boost my baby/child’s immune system?
There is no simple answer, but providing nutritious food for your family can help.
Overall nutrition is important – well-nourished children do not get ill as often as undernourished children as under nutrition impairs the immune system. Under nutrition can be due to a lack of calories and proteins, fats and carbohydrates, as well as a low intake of specific vitamins and minerals, but often it is a combination of these factors that leads to a lowered immunity.
Specific nutrients that have been demonstrated, in either animal or human studies, to be required for the immune system to function efficiently, include vitamin A, folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12, vitamin C, vitamin D and vitamin E as well as zinc, the essential fatty acid linoleic acid and essential amino acids (building blocks of protein). Vitamin E and zinc have been particularly well studied in the area of immunity.
My top tips for keeping your family’s immune system in tip-top shape:
- Offer plenty of fruits and vegetables
I know it sounds obvious but offering colourful foods at each meal will go a long way to meeting the 5-a-day target and therefore increase you family’s intake of most vitamins, particularly vitamin A and C.…”Eat A Rainbow”
Food / Meal Ideas:
- Soups are a great way to increase your family’s vegetable intake (see below)
- Make fruit or vegetable kebabs with the kids
- Use veggies and a dip (hummus, cream cheese, olive tapenade) as a fun and colourful starter
- Add grilled tomatoes to scrambled eggs and wholegrain toast for breakfast
My girls’ favourite soups include:
- Chicken and vegetable soup
- Roasted pepper and lentil soup
- Sweet potato and ginger soup
- Butternut and cumin soup
- Include dairy products – 3 portions/day
Milk and other dairy products are an important source of protein, zinc, vitamins A and B12.
Idea: Try plain yoghurt as a dessert or snack sprinkled with cinnamon, dried cranberries or mango and almonds
- Include eggs often and oily fish – 2 portions / week
Both these foods are an excellent source of protein (essential amino acids), vitamins A and D.
Idea: Try scrambled/poached eggs with smoked salmon (Eggs royale…such a treat!)
Other ideas include salmon fishcakes, grilled salmon with pesto and these recipes
- Use nut butters, nuts and seeds in recipes
Nuts, nut butters and seeds are an excellent source of vitamin E, which has been extensively studied and shown to be an important nutrient for the proper functioning of the immune system.
Ideas: Use nut butters as dips, such as banana and peanut butter or celery and almond butter.
Another idea is to add pumpkin or sunflower seeds to plain yoghurt, over your breakfast cereal or add a handful to ‘Oaty snack bars.
- Offer whole grains and try wheat germ
Whole grains are a good source of zinc and B vitamins as well as fibre, calcium and iron. Zinc and B vitamins are particularly important for the immune system.
Ideas: Try to choose wholegrain versions of pasta, rice and bread/bagels as often as possible.
Add 1-2 teaspoons of wheat germ to breakfast cereals, stews/casseroles, muffins, pancakes, yoghurt or smoothies
For further information and other tips on improving your family’s immunity, such as getting enough sleep and exercise, see this website: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/winterhealth/Pages/Healthywinter.aspx
- Philip C. Calder and Samantha Kew. British Journal of Nutrition (2002), 88, S165–S176 The immune system: a target for functional foods?
- Wimalawansa SJ. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2016 Sep 20. Non-musculoskeletal benefits of vitamin D.