When it comes to preventing illness in our children, we parents often think about the medications our children need or the vaccines that are distributed. Truth be told, so much of what determines good or bad health comes down to the foods kids eat. Our immune system is developed around the kinds of eating habits we create. So if we want our kids to ward off illness and disease, we need to make sure they are fed propery.
What is the immune system?
The immune system can be difficult to understand because it doesn’t exist in any one set of organs within our body. According to the US National Library of Medicine, “ [The] immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs. Together they help the body fight infections and other diseases” (2021). There are several important components that make up the immune system, the most notable being the skin, white blood cells, and membrane lining of the internal organs. Those components are spread all throughout the body, which is why the immune system is complex.
Why do children need to develop a healthy immune system?
The immune system is what helps to keep our body healthy. It’s primary function is to fight off infections and disease. Children especially need to develop a healthy immune system because their bodies are growing and adapting to the world around them. They are more likely to come into contact with a germ or virus that the body has not had experience protecting itself against. It is therefore, essential for kids to develop a strong immune system that can protect itself from getting sick.
What helps to strengthen the immune system?
Supporting a healthy immune system starts with eating well and making consistent choices to build a healthy diet. Yes, vaccines can help create a strong immune system, it is no replacement for a healthy diet. When it comes to foods that strengthen the immune system you will want to finds foods that contain the following (Griffin 2013):
- Probiotics are living organisms that are found in certain foods, sometimes considered “healthy germs” and they the are essential to maintaining good digestive health. Yogurt is a great source of probiotics that kids will enjoy eating. The key with finding a good yogurt for your child is to look for one that isn’t packed with added sugar.
- Omega-3 fatty acids can help kids, and adults, fight off illness and are considered vital nutrients for brain functionality. When kid’s brains are still developing, a diet with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of heart disease, depression, dementia, and autoimmune disease (Beurkens 2021). The most well-known source of omega-3 fatty acids is fish, specifically salmon. While some kids are more likely than others to eat salmon, other more picky eaters will be reluctant. Kids can find more appealing sources of omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts. These types of nuts can be incorporated in trail mix snacks, granola bars, or ground up into a smoothie.
- Vitamin C is essential for the healthy growth and repair of tissues all over the body. In fact,vitamin c is often the poster child of vitamins when it comes to supporting a healthy immune system. Oranges, strawberries, broccoli, and tomatoes are all great sources of vitamin c that your child will love.
- Zinc is known to help white blood cells fight off infections and therefore critical to helping children develop a strong, healthy immune system. Zinc is found in foods like red meat, oysters, and poultry. However, if you find your child is reluctant to try any of those, consider baked beas, chickpeas, and nuts such as cashews or almonds (Office of Dietary Supplements 2021).
What happens if a child does not get enough vitamins and minerals?
When your child is lacking certain vitamins and minerals necessary to developing a healthy immune system, it creates a defficiency and can lead to anemia. Vitamin deficiencies are serious and can cause long-term health problems for your child. Sings of a vitamin deficiency include (Mayo Clinic 2019):
- Shortness of breath.
- Pale or yellowish skin.
- Irregular heartbeats.
- Weight loss.
- Numbness or tingling in hands and feet.
- Muscle weakness.
If your child is exhibiting any of these sings contact your pediatrician. It is likely your child will be given some vitamin supplements to help lessen their deficiency. Ultimately you will want to help your child create a healthy, balanced diet to prevent any kind of defficieny from happening.
We all want our children to be healthy and we all know that eating well is essential to our well being. Picky eaters are a real struggle, and we know it’s tempting to give in and let them eat the junk food, but finding that balance is important. Good parents know that healthy foods are what’s best for the child and will help support them by finding foods they enjoy that are good for them.
Griffin, M. R. (2013, January 18). Immunity-Boosting Snacks for Kids. WebMD.
Beurkens, N. (2021, March 1). 7 Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids – For Help with ADHD, Autism, Depression and Brain Function. Nicole Beurkens.
Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, March 26). Office of Dietary Supplements – Zinc. National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2021, May 17). Immune System and Disorders. Autoimmune Disease | MedlinePlus.
Mayo Clinic. (2019, December 10). Vitamin deficiency anemia – Symptoms and causes.