A wholefood diet, rich in fruit and vegetables, oily fish, eggs, fish, free range meat, beans and pulses will lay the foundations for a healthy immune system in your child and is one of the most important things you can do to support them if they become unwell.
Try making homemade soups with vegetables and chicken or lentils, and blending well if you child tends to dislike vegetables. Or offer snacks like carrot, cucumber sticks or mange tout, children often prefer raw and crunchy vegetables rather than cooked.
The nutrients necessary to boost immunity are;
Magnesium – found in wholegrains like brown rice, wholegrain or wholemeal bread; green vegetables like broccoli, kale and cabbage; beans and nuts
B vitamins – found in wholegrains (see above), yeast extract like Marmite
Iron – found in liver, tahini (sesame seed paste), dried fruit – especially dried apricots, pulses – lentils and beans, fresh green vegetables like spinach, broccoli and kale, and yellow veg and fruit.
Zinc – found in eggs, nuts and seeds (esp pumpkin seeds)
Vitamin A – found in fish, yellow and green vegetables
Vitamin C – found in all fresh fruit and vegetables
A diet high in protein will also help to build up immunity ( lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts, beans and pulses), while fibre from fruit, veg, nuts and seeds, oats, beans and pulses will help to keep the digestive tract working well.
You could also try introducing kefir, this fermented yogurt is wonderful for improving immunity through its actions on optimizing a health gut flora. It can be mixed into yogurt and fruit.
Ensure your child is getting enough sleep – this is so vital to a healthy immune system:
- 12 months old – Daytime: 2 hours 30 minutes. Night-time: 11 hours
- 2 years old – Daytime: 1 hour 30 minutes. Night-time: 11 hours 30 minutes
- 3 years – Daytime: 0 to 45 minutes. Night-time: 11 hours 30 minutes to 12 hours
- 4 years – Night-time: 11 hours 30 minutes
- 5 years – Night-time: 11 hours
- 6 years – Night-time: 10 hours 45 minutes
- 7 years – Night-time: 10 hours 30 minutes
- 8 years – Night-time: 10 hours 15 minutes
- 9 years – Night-time: 10 hours
- 10 years – Night-time: 9 hours 45 minutes
- 11 years – Night-time: 9 hours 30 minutes
- 12 years – Night-time: 9 hours 15 minutes
- 13 years – Night-time: 9 hours 15 minutes
- 14/15/16 years – Night-time: 9 hours
Encourage lots of play, staying active, getting fresh air and running outside. Especially beneficial is playing in the garden or outside in nature– this helps to improve the gut flora and immune system and helps children to release any worry or anxiety, and so help them sleep better.
Some supplements could have a place in boosting immunity and show evidence of possible benefit.
A review of existing research in 2012 which looked at 5 clinical trials found that taking vitamin D supplements may help to prevent respiratory infections
For children the dose should be 400-800iu/ day depending on age.
Food sources of Vitamin D include oily fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, and cheese, while egg yolks provide small amounts.
The evidence around vitamin C and the prevention of respiratory tract infections is mixed. However, once you are infected, vitamin C appears to shorten the duration of the infection especially in women and children. Eating fresh fruit and vegetables are best, or children can take a dissolvable Vitamin C tablet. Oranges and grapefruits are important sources of Vitamin C, as are red and green peppers, kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe melon, and baked potatoes, so eat a wide variety daily.
The bacteria in your gut is a relatively new area of research, and we are learning more every day about the beneficial effects of fibre and probiotics for a healthy microbiome. Surprisingly, your gut bacteria plays an essential role in regulating your immune system. A study in 2015 of almost 4,000 adults and children found evidence of protection against upper respiratory tract infections for those taking a probiotic compared with those taking a placebo. An excellent way to increase the good bacteria in your gut is to increase fibre intake. Alternatively, you can take a probiotic in the form of cultured foods like kefir or live yoghurt. If this doesn’t appeal, there are plenty of commercially available probiotics available (if your child has IBD or is immunodeficient speak with your health care provider before supplementing) For children I would recommend Biocare probiotic powder which is easily added into yogurt or onto cereals.
Biocare Berry Melts (over 3 years)
Garlic and Ginger – these are classic herbs used to prevent and treat a respiratory infection, although more specific to bacterial infections than viral infections. Nonetheless, they are helpful to overall health and immune health. Garlic can be added to food, or in the case of children, you can crush garlic cloves in olive oil and leave overnight. Then use the garlic oil and rub into your baby or child’s feet. This way the garlic is absorbed into the body and does have a beneficial effect even though it has not been eaten!
Ginger makes a warming and delicious tea, take fresh ginger and simmer for 15- 20 minutes. Add slices of lemon and honey for a refreshing and immune-boosting tea which older children may well enjoy.
If you child is a fussy eater and does not enjoy vegetables a good quality professional grade multivitamin would be a good idea, and if they are vegetarian or don’t enjoy oily fish there are also many omega oil supplements which are made for children. Again, ensure these are high-grade pharmaceutical grade – I would recommend:
Nutri Advanced Jelly Splats