Eat foods that contain Vitamin A
Many aspects of immunity are regulated by Vitamin A, it contributes to immune cell maturation and function. It is important that your child is having an adequate supply through sources such as lean meat and vegetables, as deficiency may result in altered immune responses and an increased chance of a range of infections.
Vitamin A can be found in meat, poultry, eggs, leafy green vegetables, orange/yellow vegetables, legumes and fruit.
Include B Vitamins in their diet
B Vitamins support the body in converting nutrients into energy and play vital roles in your child’s antiviral defence and intestinal immune regulation. There are 8 types of B vitamins found in food, these include:
- Thiamin – Vitamin B1: Wholegrain breads and cereals, legumes, nuts, seed
- Riboflavin – Vitamin B2: Dairy, wholegrain breads and cereals, leafy green vegetables and meat
- Niacin – Vitamin B3: Meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, wholegrain breads and cereals
- Pantothenic acid – Vitamin B5: Meat, dairy, eggs and legumes
- Vitamin B6: Wholegrain breads and cereals, green leafy vegetables, legumes, meat and poultry
- Biotin – Vitamin B7: Egg yolks, cauliflower, chicken and peanuts
- Folate – Vitamin B9: Non-organic bread, green leafy vegetables, legumes, seeds, eggs
- Vitamin B12: Meat, dairy and eggs
Eat the rainbow
Vitamin C is best known for its role in supporting a healthy immune function. It supports various cell functions and creates a barrier function against bacteria or microorganisms that can cause disease. It also enhances the absorption of iron, another nutrient that assists in building your child’s immune system and general health & development.
Vitamin C is commonly found in citrus fruits, mangoes, kiwifruits, tomatoes and strawberries, along with vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, capsicum and cabbage. Vitamin C deficiency can result in impaired immunity, so eating the recommended serves of fruit and vegetables every day will ensure your child meets their vitamin C targets. For toddlers, aim for 2.5 serves of vegetables and 1 serve of fruit per day. For children aged 4-8 years, 4.5 serves of vegetables and 1.5 serves of fruit is the target. From 9 years onwards, the target is the same as adults – 5 serves of vegetables and 2 serves of fruit every day.
So how much is a serve? 1 serve is 75g or half a cup of cooked vegetables, or 1 cup of salad vegetables. As for fruit, a banana, apple or orange count as 1 serve, while smaller fruits (such as apricots), require 2 pieces to meet one serve.
For more info on serve sizes and food groups, visit The Australian Dietary Guidelines Eat for Health website.
Go outdoors for your daily dose of Vitamin D
Commonly known to support bone health, Vitamin D receptors are found in most body immune cells, enhancing the body’s antiviral defence. Vitamin D enhances cellular immunity and can reduce the risk of infections.
It is difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone as there are only small amounts of vitamin D naturally found in foods such as eggs, fish and fortified toddler milk drinks. Sun exposure is the best source of vitamin D, and being in Australia, we have no shortage of sunshine! So how much sun do you need to meet your requirements? The Cancer Council has some recommendations on their website.
Moving some everyday activities outdoors when you can is a great way to get your supply of sunshine. Playing outside on the trampoline, kicking a ball in the park, or going on a family walk are great ways to get your child moving and to increase their Vitamin D production.
Incorporate iron-rich foods
Iron helps transport oxygen around the body through the blood and contributes to the body’s immune response.
Iron deficiency may increase susceptibility to infections, so your child meeting their iron requirements is necessary. Good sources of iron include meat, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, wholegrains and legumes. Remember, plant-based iron sources are not as easily absorbed by the body as animal sources7. To boost your child’s iron absorption of plant-based iron sources, pair with foods containing vitamin C.
Support Zinc intake
Zinc plays a key role in supporting your child’s antiviral defence and immune cells. Zinc deficiency impairs some aspects of the body’s immune response, and contributes to an increased susceptibility to infections, so make sure your child is getting enough Zinc!
Key sources include red meat, poultry, beans, nuts and seafood, tofu and legumes.
So, what is the verdict?
There are many nutrients involved in improving your child’s immune system, many of which a healthy diet covering all food groups including fruits, vegetables, nuts & grains, legumes, meat and fish will provide. On the flip side, a restrictive, uniform diet that does not include a variety of foods, is more likely to result in a suboptimal immune response, so make sure your child is having lots of colourful fruit and veggies from a diverse diet to build their immunity!
For more information on supporting your child’s immunity, see your healthcare professional.
Article written by Accredited Dietitian, Amy Stratford