“A good laugh, a long sleep and a healthy diet is the key to fighting infections!”
Infections are all around us, even where we least expect. There is no way that we can exterminate all of them to protect our kids. Protection has to come from within. Immunity is innate in our bodies, but like everything else, we have to build it up to fight infections. Children are more prone to get infections and show a stronger reaction as their bodies are still 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.
Nutrition and Health
Researches in the past 25 years have established that a good nutritional status and good hygiene reduces the incidences of infections in children and strengthens their immune system. Nutritional deficiencies, being underweight or being over-weight were major determinants of immune-deficiencies. (RK Chandra, Nutriton and Immunity- An Introduction, American Society of Clinical Nutrition). You can boost the immunity of your child by including the following simple foods.
1. Citrus fruits
citrus fruits such as oranges, grape fruit, lemon, kinnow are rich in Vitamin C. Vitamin C which targets specific cells to reduce inflammation. They have a high content of 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 the skin which is the first line of defense in the body.
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 against the infection. They are also rich in Vitamin C, which are 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, water melon and pink grape fruit. They are very rich in anti-oxidants which help the immune system by reducing the harmful oxidative stress. They help in activation of T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes (body’s defense mechanism), multiplication of lymphocytes and production of antibodies and cytokines.
4. Green leafy vegetables –
Spinach is of great importance here. It contains carotenoids, Lutein and Zeaxanthin which reduce the oxidative stress and help in improving the immune-response. It is also an amazing source of various vitamins (vitamin K, vitamin A, folate, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6), minerals (manganese, potassium and magnesium) and fibre. These nutrients are helpful in increasing the antibody production and play are role in the healthy working of the Spleen, Thymus and Thyroid gland which are anti-body storage and production organs.
5. White and Yellow Vegetables and Fruits-
Papaya, Pumpkin, Guava, Banana, Carrots, Sweet potatoes are sources of fiber, carotenoids, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Selenium, Folate etc which have an anti-viral action and are wonder foods in influenzas.
6. Improve their fluid intake-
Water washes out the toxins in the body and acts as a cleanser. It cleanses the body of the by-products produced and increases the oxygen uptake by cells and thus helps in enhancing the immunity.
It is important to ensure that pre-schoolers consume 1-1.5 ltrs of fluids everyday. 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 sippy cup or a bottle which they identify as their own! Some kids may not like drinking plain water( even though it’s the best option), you could offer them mildly flavoured water( with diluted fresh juices ). 100% fruit juices wouldn’t be a very good option as they are full of sugar and calories which may lead to weight gain, diarrhoea and caries in teeth.
7. Nuts –
Nuts are rich in good quality proteins, healthy fats, Selenium, Magnesium, Iron, Calcium, Copper, Phosphorus, Manganese, Fiber, 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.
8. Non-vegetarian foods-
Chicken, Egg, Fish are excellent sources of good quality proteins which is essential for proper functioning of immune system. 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 the antibody (immunoglobulin) secretion as well. Another important component of proteins are the Branched Chain Amino Acids or BCAA (Leucine, Isoleucine, Valine) which are essential for synthesis of lymphocytes in response to any infection.
9. Greek Yoghurt-
is a very good source of protein and probiotics. Almost 50% of the immune system of our kid’s body resides in the intestines. Probiotics are the good bacteria which fight off the bad bacteria in the intestines. Greek yogurt is easier to digest and is lower in lactose so is suitable for lactose intolerant children as well.
10. Dates and figs-
are rich in iron, Magnesium, calcium, Phosphorus, Zinc, fiber, antioxidants, folate and Vitamin A. They are special foods for improving the immune action by increasing the number of specific lymphocytes which are responsible for inflammations and recovery from infections.
Daily requirements of pre-schoolers(ICMR guidelines)-
Cereals and Millets 210 gms
Pulses 45 gms
Milk 500 ml
Roots and Tubers 100 gm
Green Leafy vegetables 50 gms
Other Vegetables 50 gms
Egg/ Meat/ Chicken/ Fish (Instead of 30 gm pulses) 50 gms