Feeding your toddler to support their immune system
Your toddler’s immune system is still developing and it will continue to develop well into adulthood. Whilst an efficient immune system often works unnoticed, fighting off germs and infection before your toddler’s body has chance to develop any symptoms, an occasional cold or bug is unavoidable. In fact, experiencing illness is one of the ways your toddler’s immune system becomes stronger.
These first few years are an important time, when your toddler’s immune system will learn how to fight common illnesses. You can give your toddler’s immune system a helping hand by feeding them a healthy, balanced diet full of vitamins, minerals and prebiotics.
This article looks at which particular nutrients have an important role in the immune system and gives you examples of foods that are good sources for you to include in your toddler’s diet.
The first few years of a child’s life are very important to the development of their immune system. As your baby becomes a toddler, they – and you – will be out and about much more, going to nursery or toddler groups, making new friends and playing outside – all of which means exposure to new kinds of germs.
This is perfectly natural and will help their immune system develop. As a parent, you can help support your toddler’s developing immune system by feeding them a healthy, balanced diet which includes foods that contain nutrients such as iron and vitamins, as well as prebiotics.
Prebiotic oligosaccharides (prebiotics)
Prebiotics help the friendly bacteria naturally present in your toddler’s tummy to thrive. A healthy level of these good bacteria helps to fight off potentially harmful ones, thereby supporting your toddler’s immune system. Prebiotics are naturally present in some foods, such as:
- Prebiotic-fortified dairy such as some yogurt
Some growing up milks also contain prebiotics and can complement a balanced diet.
Iron is important for the formation of haemoglobin in red blood cells, which carry oxygen through the body, making it essential for healthy development. It can also affect the immune system; toddlers who don’t regularly get enough iron could have a reduced immune function, which in turn could make them less resistant to infection. It can be surprisingly hard to ensure your toddler regularly gets enough iron – a recent survey has shown that 8 out of 10 toddlers aren’t getting their recommended daily amount.
Good sources of iron include:
- Meat (especially red meat)
- Dried fruit such as dried apricots
- Whole grains such as brown rice
- Fortified Growing Up milks
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Soybean flour
- Dark green leafy vegetables such as watercress and curly kale
There are many more reasons why iron is important to your toddler. For more information read our article on the importance of iron.
Zinc can be found in all of the body’s tissue and it has a number of important functions. Not only does it aid the creation of new cells and the enzymes needed to support your toddler’s immune system, but it also helps our bodies to heal wounds. You can find zinc in a variety of toddler-friendly foods, such as:
- Cereal products such as wheatgerm
Vitamin D is not only important for healthy bones and teeth; it also plays a role in supporting your toddler’s immune system. Most of our vitamin D comes from sunlight on our skin, as the vitamin forms under the skin in reaction to sunlight. However, the sun is generally only strong enough in the UK for this reaction to happen in the summer months. Due to their limited exposure to sunlight, and the rapid development of their bones and teeth, it’s recommended that toddlers get 7ug of vitamin D a day from their diet.
Sources of vitamin D include:
- Oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel)
- Fortified margarine
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Aptamil Junior with Pronutra Growing up Milk
However, because so few foods contain an adequate amount of vitamin D, it is recommended that toddlers receive vitamin D supplements.
Vitamin C helps protect cells and keeps your toddler healthy, and it’s needed by white blood cells to fight infection. It helps your toddler’s skin to heal itself after any scrapes or grazes and also helps their body absorb iron. It’s a good idea to include the following vitamin C-rich foods in your toddler’s diet:
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potatoes
- Kiwi fruit
Vitamin A helps support your toddler’s immune system against infection because it is involved in the generation of antibody responses and the function of immune cells. It helps to maintain your toddler’s healthy skin and any surface tissues that excrete mucus, such as the nose and the intestines. Your toddler can get vitamin A from:
- Dairy such as cheese, milk and yogurt
- Oily fish (such as mackerel)
- Fortified margarine
While a healthy, varied diet containing a range of these foods should give your toddler’s immune system what it needs, it can be difficult to make sure your toddler is getting enough, especially if they’re going through a fussy phase.
If you’ve got any questions, the chances are that our Careline advisors has been there themselves – give them a call on 800 6458 6262 (UAE)/ +971 4 420 9489 (Other countries) between the hours of 9am and 6pm Saturday to Thursday.