Iron is essential to the formation of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen around the body. Iron supports cognitive development in children. Iron deficiencies, known as anemia, can affect the immune response, leading to an increase in infections in children.
Thankfully, there’s a wide array of iron-rich foods to choose from, including red meat and plant-based alternatives, beans and nuts, wholegrains such as brown rice, leafy green vegetables – such as kale and spinach, plus fortified breakfast cereals and infant and follow-on formula and young child formula.
Vitamin C is a natural antioxidant used by white blood cells to fight infections, and it also helps with the absorption of iron. Vitamin C is found in many fruits and vegetables, such as oranges, kiwis, blackcurrants, peppers, broccoli and spinach.
Zinc is a mineral found in all cells throughout the body. It helps the immune system to fight off invading bacteria and viruses by creating new cells and enzymes. It also helps to heal wounds. Your child’s daily zinc requirements can be found in nutrient-rich foods, such as meat, dairy products (such as milk and cheese) and wholegrain breads and cereals.
Vitamin D plays a part in the normal functioning of your child’s immune system, which is your child´s first line of defence against infections. Vitamin D is also needed to absorb calcium in the body, contributing to the development of your child´s bones and teeth.
Normally, exposure to sunshine contributes to our natural daily need of Vitamin D. As many of us are currently in confinement to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, we may not be getting our daily dose of sunshine. So, it’s especially important to ensure we’re all getting enough vitamin D, be it through diet or vitamin D supplementation. Please consult your healthcare professional for information regarding vitamin D supplementation.
The best dietary sources of vitamin D are oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel, eggs, some mushrooms, fortified breakfast cereals or infant and follow-on formula as well as young child formula – check the label.
Vitamin A supports the immune system by strengthening white blood cells and generating the antibody immune response. Vitamin A also helps in the formation of cells as your child develops.
You can find vitamin A in animal-based products, such as liver and eggs, and dairy-based foods, such as yoghurts and cheese. The body can get vitamin A from some fruits, like mangos, and from dark leafy greens, like cabbage and kale, as well as from orange vegetable, like carrots and sweet potatoes.
Prebiotics encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut while protecting against harmful bacteria. In addition, fiber in foods such as wholegrains are important for gut health.
Prebiotics are found in bananas, chicory, onions, tomatoes and perhaps, more surprisingly, garlic. Certain infant formulas, as well as follow-on milks and young child formulas are fortified with prebiotics; the latter ones can complement a balanced diet.
The combination of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, protein sources such as meat or fish, fats and dairy will provide your child with the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are essential to a healthy immune system. In times of confinement, careful meal planning and healthy snacks ensure that you’ll be able to provide your child with the most balanced diet possible.