Boosting our child’s immunity – a very relevant question of all times and specially an often-asked question since the past Pandemic rift year.
Well, you have come to the right place because in this post you are going to find multiple and long-term strategies to enhance your child’s immune system. This post is not just a list of quick fixes one can use to better immunity… on the contrary this post will teach you how to BUILD your child’s immunity.
The immune system is not one organ but a diffused series of tissues and cells all working in tandem to secure the defense of the body. So, it is very important to know that right from the cells of the bone marrow to the tonsils and other lymph nodes to the tissues of the gastro intestinal tract and the huge bacterial population present there to the skin and the spleen – all these tissues are part of the immune system. The Immune tissue is large, spread out and very responsive both to good and bad inputs and it can respond quickly to the direction we give it
That is why we say – this many layered system needs to be built specially in our children.
So, here are holistic, sustainable and multi-faceted methods to yes… Build the immune system. Oh! Yes.. we will also talk about the “Immune boosting Foods”
Start Early and Start Young:
If you are a parent to be or a new parent, you are lucky to read this really early on…
The baby’s immune system starts developing in the fetal period itself. So, mothers – to – need to focus on eating right and living right both physically and emotionally as well as stay stress free.
The focus also needs to be on exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and ideally the breastfeeding can be continued till two years of age alongside the introduction of complementary feeds. Breast milk has wonderful immune boosting immunoglobulins and provides substances that help in the growth of beneficial gut bacteria as well as helps the intestines to ward off infections. Breast fed babies have lesser instances of ear infections and respiratory illnesses later in childhood.
It is crucial to have the correct schedule to introduce complementary feeding. It is not trial and error but a scientific process that needs to be followed. Immunity can be disturbed and the allergies can result if introduction of complementary feedings is not done correctly and the right foods given in the correct schedule will enhance immunity.
Write to us with queries regarding complementary feeding and let us provide you with answers.
Habitise (well… habit needs to be a verb than a noun). Children need to be taught as well as inspired to prioritise hygiene. Personal hygiene habits from the correct way to take care of skin to keeping the body under sanitary conditions, washing hands correctly, reducing the exposures to germs are all important to keep the immune system healthy.
Reducing exposures to respiratory illnesses and consuming hygienically sourced, prepared and stored foods is of paramount importance.
Foods after preparation can be left at room temperature not more than four hours before spoilage starts. Foods that need to be refrigerated need to be cooled down quickly rather than being left out to naturally cool down to room temperature.
Focus on gut health:
The intestine is an immune organ and it is high time we recognise it as one. It functions for immunity both from having a good structure that prevents infections to the beneficial bacteria present in the gut which does not allow the growth of infectious bacteria.
Right from infancy through all the growing years, foods offered must support the growing gut as well as should be able to deliver fuel for the good bacteria to grow.
Whole grains, unprocessed food, variety of fruits and vegetables as well as nuts will ensure the growth of good bacteria in the gut and this will provide a strong basis for the building of the intestinal immune system.
On the contrary, use of processed infant cereal and high sugar beverages and desserts will promote the growth of less desirable bacteria.
The immune system needs to be nourished so that it can built itself to strength.
Whilst all nutrients are important, let us focus on six key nutrients that have a huge role in building up the immune system and allow it to prosper:
Crucial to produce immune molecules that offer us protection. This can be achieved by inclusion of Daals, Milk and Milk products, nuts, flesh foods in every meal.
Omega 3 fatty acids:
Lovely molecules that nourish the immune system – available from Walnuts, salmon, pomfret, tuna, flax seeds, mustard oil and soybean oil
Vitamin D is important to protect and regulate the immune system. Unfortunately, large numbers of our children are seen to be deficient in Vitamin D – hugely surprising in a sun drenched country like India. All that our paediatric and adolescent population needs to do is to – Say Hello to the Sun. Let Children play out and be exposed to the sun. That will suffice to get adequate vitamin D to preserve the immune system
A powerhouse nutrient to produce and maintain the immune cells and a nutrient that many children don’t take enough of. Available in whole grains, unprocessed grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables and flesh foods. Liver is also a fantastic source of zinc.
That wonder nutrient which gets the immune cells to function optimally. It can be sourced from fresh fruits and vegetables (Some inclusion of clean raw foods is beneficial) as well as from sprouts. Citrus (lime, oranges) and guava are wonderful sources. So also, are delicious vegetables like cabbage, capsicum and tomatoes as well as amla and berries.
Extremely important to ensure the functioning of the immune cells and a nutrient that could be deficient easily in our populations specially children and teenagers. This nutrient can be sourced from whole grains, whole pulses, seeds like garden cress seeds, non veg foods, green leafy vegetables and nuts.
Live beneficial bacteria and fuel for their growth:
This is specifically to enhance gut immunity. Curd and yogurt are wonderful examples of foods that can provide good bacteria and can be combined with a wholesome fruit and vegetable replete diet.
Our immunity is highly impacted by what we eat yes… but it is also highly influenced by how we live. This is not just in adulthood but equally important in the growing years. There are some key lifestyle patterns that can either support immunity or challenge it
Children need adequate sleep to rejuvenate the immune system. From 12 hours for toddlers to 9 -11 hours for children and adolescents. Unfortunately, the busy lives of today’s children may pose challenges in achieving adequate sleep. Lack of sleep does lower immunity in children.
Increasing stress levels is another immunity disruptor – a scenario that can be observed in our older children and adolescents with continued academic and social pressures. Families need to look at stress defusing strategies if such a chronic stress is present. Stress needs to be managed, channelised, relieved and addressed failing which it can lower immunity levels in children.
We need to keep pollutants at bay from ruining children’s immune systems. Things like passive cigarette smoke, heavy metals in foods, pesticides in food, polluted environments, unmitigated use of low quality plastics can all send the immune system for a toss. This could lead to developing allergies, autoimmune diseases, eczema and skin issues.
What we need to do…
Ensure good growth
Growth monitoring tells us that with an increase in height and weight, other internal organs are also growing well and that includes the immune system
Let us nourish our children with wholesome food, adequate physical activity (a magic potion to enhance the immune system), adequate sleep, less stress and maintain a good environment.
Let us host happy children who are cuddled often (yes – touch can better the immune system), who have enough time to play and study and relax with indulging in hobbies and free time
Role model, make immunity a talking point, explain and educate:
Let us have more conversations around immunity with our children and act as role models of people building a good immune system. Let our nourishing habits and lifestyle choices reflect it and in no time our children will follow us with good immune building habits.
Children are intelligent beings who have their common sense in the right place. Once we explain to them the benefits of having a good immune system, make them responsible and accountable for health, they will be self-motivated to take care of their immune system.
Five immune building food ideas that children will love:
Rajkeera (Amaranth seeds) and dry ginger chikki :
Rajkeera contains a wonderful slice of vitamins and minerals that are immune protective and dry ginger enhances immune response
Chickpea and sprouts cutlet:
A great snack that provides protein as well as vitamins especially vitamin C
Garden cress (Toasted) seeds, spinach and paneer roll:
A wholesome snack delivering iron and a host of vitamins, fiber as well as protein – all wonderful for the immune system
Choco Walnut banana and flaxseed milkshake:
A delicious quick go to milk shake that immediately delivers a good punch of omega 3 fatty acids and vitamins to preserve the immune system.
Nutty Fruity Delight:
A smoothie that blends a chosen fruit, mixed nuts with the goodness of curd and yogurt a wonderful source of Zinc.
So, dear concerned parents, Immunity is to be built and maintained and let’s remember that it’s not just delivering a dash of turmeric or a glass of orange juice; it is a daily consistent effort much like the marathon runner who practices daily and finishes the run.
Happy Immunity Building!