Simple ways to boost your toddler’s immune system
We, humans, fight off pathogenic bacteria, viruses, fungi and other disease-causing microorganisms with the help of our innate immunity and adaptive immunity. These two aspects of the human immune system help fight off infections in different ways. So, let us understand this a little more.
Innate immunity refers to the physical barriers of the human body, such as the skin, the mucosal membrane lining the stomach or the mouth that prevents entry of infectious agents. Adaptive immunity is the immunity an individual develops as he or she encounters infectious agents and generates antibodies against them.
A toddler has an immature immune system and as he or she goes through childhood, both aspects of the immune system develop and mature. Over the years, scientists have reported that an inadequate diet and food intake in children leads to weight loss, lowered immunity, mucosal damage, increased susceptibility to pathogens, and impaired growth and development.
Therefore, it is very important that a toddler’s diet is nutrient dense and replete with different macro and micronutrients. However, this is a challenge for most parents as toddlers are notorious for their fussy food habits. Parents are sometimes so hassled that they give in to the whims and fancies of the children without realizing the negative impact a certain kind of food has on the health of the child. One of the first body systems that get negatively impacted is the immune system.
Below are three ways by which you can boost your toddler’s immune system and give him or her the precious advantage of effectively fighting off that infection.
Reduce sugar in the diet
A toddler will never say no to anything with sugar. It could be cream biscuits, cakes, candies or seemingly “healthy” foods like bread and jam. The harmful effects of sugar on dental health, excessive weight gain, diabetes is so well known, that the effect of sugar on other aspects of heath has gotten overshadowed. Did you know that eating or drinking too much sugar can negatively affect the immune system cells? A study has shown that a high sugar meal can reduce the effectiveness of the white blood corpuscles (WBC) to destroy bacteria by about 50%. This effect can in fact last for up to 5 hours after a sugary meal.
You may think that your child is ok because he or she doesn’t really like much sweets or doesn’t add sugar to his or her milk, but it is important to look out for the hidden sources of sugar and always check the label of packaged foods for sugar content before you buy. So, take a stock of your toddler’s diet and cut out the sugar to boost immune system functioning.
Colour up your toddler’s plate
Focus on what you can feed to boost the immune system. Ensure that your toddler’s plate is colourful and is filled with at least 5 to 6 different coloured vegetables and fruits. A colourful plate also helps in enticing a fussy eater and sneaks in the required nutrition.
Did you know that over 1600 genes are involved in the immune response to infections? Vitamins and minerals support the action of these genes by acting as enzymes, co-factors and in other ways to help the body mount a potent immune response to infections. Nutrients such as vitamin A, C, zinc, iron and selenium are in particular very important for the immune system.
Vitamin A from foods such as carrots, papaya, mangoes, tomatoes and seafood is converted into different active compounds in the body after they are consumed. These active compounds help increase WBC proliferation, antibody response to pathogens and even help in strengthening the mucosal barriers that prevent entry of infectious agents.
Vitamin C rich foods include amla, guava, capsicum, citrus fruits and green leafy vegetables like radish leaves, drumstick leaves and kale. It helps the immune function by boosting the action of phagocytes which swallow and kill pathogens, increasing lymphocyte count which increases circulating antibodies and strengthens the epithelial cell membrane of the skin which forms a physical barrier against infections.
Iron is present in immune system enzymes that help destroy invading organisms. Animal foods and green leafy vegetables are the richest source of iron.
Zinc is a very important mineral especially during an infection as it controls the immune system’s response to the infection by strengthening WBC activity and function and in addition also has anti-viral properties. Zinc can be obtained from foods such as cereals, whole pulses, nuts, fortified breakfast cereals and dairy products.
Selenium can be found in foods such as chicken, fish, eggs, chia seeds, sesame seeds, wheat bran, whole wheat flour, Bengal gram dal, dried peas and lentils. Selenium, by acting as an anti-oxidant, improves immune function and selenium supplementation can in fact help increase resistance to respiratory infections.
Include milk and milk based drinks with immuno-nutrients
Ensuring that your toddler eats a well-balanced diet is often a challenge. In addition, they have small tummies and parents often wonder if their child is meeting their daily nutrient requirements. Fortified milks could be a choice especially if your toddler is a fussy eater and is not meeting with height and weight standards for his or her age. The milks are fortified with different nutrients whose requirements are often a challenge to meet for toddlers in his or her diet.