Many parents wonder what they can do to prevent their child from catching illnesses, especially colds and ear infections. The immune system is a finely-tuned orchestra of different kinds of cells. Therefore, the idea of “boosting” immunity is a complicated one, as it is unclear which kinds of cells need to a boost, by how much, and how this can effectively be achieved.
Even so, scientists have found that there are several ways to support the immune system. This includes adequate sleep, proper diet, and regular exercise. From a nutrition standpoint, there is evidence that suggests that “micronutrient malnutrition,” might play a causal role in determining the risk of developing infectious diseases in both children and adults.
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which contain many important micronutrients (vitamins/minerals), is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. What’s more, there are nutrients that are known to play vital roles in immune function.
These include: vitamin A, beta-carotene, folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin, iron, zinc, and selenium. Some of these nutrients are also powerful antioxidants that can minimize the impact of viral illness by changing the genetic makeup of viruses.
Below are some examples foods that are rich in one or more of these important micronutrients, followed by child-friendly recipes that can help to support a child’s immune system.
- Sweet potatoes
- Dark green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, broccoli, etc.)
- Citrus fruit (orange, grapefruit, lemon, etc.)
- Berries (elderberry, blueberries, strawberries)
- Black-eyed peas
- Almonds or raw almond butter
- Seeds (chia, sunflower, pumpkin, etc.)
Kid Friendly Recipes:
10 Kid Friendly Green Smoothies
Mixed Berry Chia Seed Pudding
Easy Bake Oven Salmon
Written by Nina Talamas, RDN, LDN
Nina Talamas is a Registered Dietitian at Nicklaus Children's Hospital. She earned her B.S. in Dietetics and Nutrition at Florida International University and completed a one-year internship through the university's coordinated program. She has been with Nicklaus Children’s for three years where she has gained extensive experience in neonatal and pediatric critical care nutrition. Nina is a board-certified nutrition support clinician who provides support in the hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit where she assists physicians in prescribing and managing both enteral and parenteral formulations.
Padbidri Bhaskaram; Micronutrient Malnutrition, Infection, and Immunity: an Overview, Nutrition Reviews, Volume 60, Issue suppl_5, 1 May 2002, Pages S40–S45, https://doi.org/10.1301/00296640260130722