Give Your Child's Immune System a Boost With These Nutrient Packed Foods
Guest Post By Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN
As parents, we all want our kids to be healthy. However, keeping kids healthy can be challenging. If left to their own devices, many would prefer a diet of chicken nuggets or candy.
While there is nothing wrong with a chicken nugget meal or candy treat, nutrient dense immune-boosting foods are important too! Here are a few essential vitamins and minerals involved in immune health, along with which foods you can offer to serve up a healthy dose of immune-boosting goodness.
Nutrients for Immunity
The Nutrition Source, published by Harvard’s School of Public Health, explains that several nutrients are necessary for healthy immune cells. These nutrients include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
Beyond supporting the immune cells, The Nutrition Source lists several other nutrients that play a role in overall immune health. These include:
- Folic Acid
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin E
Garlic may also be beneficial to immune health.
Additionally, they explain that a diet high in processed sugars and red meat, especially if the diet is also low in fruits and veggies, may be associated with inflammation in the gut. The gut is home to a diverse microbiome (the trillions of microorganisms that make your body home). What you eat plays a role in the organisms in your gut.
Research is ongoing into how your gut impacts immune health—but we know it plays a crucial role. While many are familiar with probiotics, prebiotics are important, too. Prebiotics are what fuel healthy probiotics.
Nutrition Powerhouses to Boost Your Immune System
It’s important to note that while the vitamins and nutrients listed, along with probiotics and prebiotics, are essential to immune health, moderation is key. Many parents often jump to supplements or vitamins to add nutrition to their child’s diet. It can be tempting to do anything to prevent another bug. If you are considering this, touch base with your primary care provider or pharmacist beforehand.
Fortunately, a wide variety of fruits, veggies, and other healthy foods boost your child’s immune health. Here are several top immune-supporting foods, jam-packed with nutritious goodness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a brief highlighting the most nutrient-dense foods based on 17 nutrients of public health importance. All the nutrients mentioned previously are included in their list, except selenium, copper, and foods for gut health.
What’s important about this brief is instead of simply looking at nutrient content, the authors also looked at the bioavailability of the foods, which means how well your body can use the vitamins and minerals present in the food source.
Watercress was the key winner in their list, achieving the highest score of 100. The other foods that rounded out the top ten included:
- Chinese cabbage
- Beet greens
- Leaf lettuce
- Romaine lettuce
- Collard greens
Other foods that made the list but were lower down included:
- Red peppers
- Brussel sprouts
- Sweet potatoes
Beyond the CDC’s list, The Nutrition Source provides several food recommendations to boost gut health. Their recommendations include probiotic foods such as kefir (a cultured yogurt-like drink), yogurt, and fermented foods like kimchi. Prebiotic foods include a wider variety of foods, such as many fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Examples include garlic, onions, asparagus, and bananas.
For trace minerals like copper and selenium, the National Institutes of Health Office on Dietary Supplements explains copper can be found in everyday foods such as potatoes (skin on), mushrooms, cashews, seeds, and wild salmon. If your little one is too young to consume nuts safely, consider spreading a thin layer of cashew butter on a whole wheat piece of toast.
According to the National Institutes of Health Office on Dietary Supplements, common sources of selenium include seafood, meat, chicken, dairy, eggs, and grain products such as bread.
How to Incorporate These Foods Into Your Child’s Diet
Variety is the spice of life, and this list doesn’t mean you need to try to feed your child parsley leaves or a big bowl of plain spinach to get an immunity boost.
For example, make mashed potatoes and blend in steamed cauliflower for added veggies and nutrients. Parsley tastes great on top of savory mashed potatoes. You could serve the potatoes with salmon for protein, trace minerals like copper and selenium, and vitamin D. Then add roasted broccoli or sauteed spinach and garlic as a tasty side.
If your child is a pasta lover, consider making a homemade pesto with watercress and spinach. Or try your hand at a sweet potato alfredo.
Consider a probiotic and prebiotic-filled smoothie with yogurt, bananas, strawberries, and spinach for an afternoon snack or a tasty breakfast. But, of course, if your little one looks twice at a green drink, you can always skip the spinach.
Regardless of which route you go for food, there is a whole rainbow of foods to eat for optimal immune health. By incorporating immune-boosting foods in your child’s diet, you’ll help prepare their bodies to prevent illness in the first place and hopefully recover faster if they do catch a bug.
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Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN, is a mother of four and a registered nurse with a background in pediatrics. When she's not working, you can find her cooking up tasty family dinners or keeping up with her kids on a hiking trail in her home state of Colorado.
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