Brighton & Hove

Supporting Your Child’s Immune System Through Nutrition

Supporting Your Child’s Immune System Through Nutrition

Supporting Your Child’s Immune System Through Nutrition

Lucy Francis, Registered Nutritional Therapist – Guest Editor for Family Grapevine and nutrition consultant for a leading nursery catering company in the UK.

Did you know that the first 5 years of an infant’s life is a critical window for cultivating a strong army of immune defences?

Whilst factors such as vaginal/caesarean birth, breast or bottle feeding and previous antibiotic use can influence immunity beyond our control to an extent, there are controllable elements we can implement today which have great impact in shaping our child’s gut microbiota (the trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi which reside in our intestinal tract, that is!) to improve their immunity. These microorganisms are known to have a huge impact on the way our immune system responds through the production of various protective metabolites when we eat certain foods – therefore, nourishing the gut through our child’s nutrition is an important consideration to make for optimum health in the now and future.

Nutritionist top tips:

Keeping things simple, let’s look at 3 elements you can introduce into your child’s nutrition today to keep their immune function ticking on the right tracks.

  1. Fibre: Remember those special gut bugs mentioned? Well, fibre is their favourite food! When we give our microbes enough fibre, it encourages the growth of friendly bacteria strains and those important immune protective metabolites.

Food sources include: Wholegrains such as rice and oats, beans and pulses like chickpeas, peas and lentils, whole fruits and vegetables (remember, juicing removes the fibre!), potatoes with their skins on and nuts & seeds.

Note: Be cautious with high fibre foods in large amounts, in particular for children who are vegetarian as they can inhibit the absorption of some key minerals. It’s recommended that children between the ages of 2-5 years aim for 15g fibre per day. Always work with a health professional for personalised advice and ways to maximise nutritional uptake if you have concerns.

  1. Rainbow food: Vibrant colours in their natural whole-food form (no, we’re not talking about jelly sweets!) contain various polyphenols, otherwise referred to as plant chemicals, which carry high antioxidant potential, working as ‘co-factors’ for multiple enzyme reactions in the body, providing instructions for healthy cellular activity. Aim for at least 5 servings per day – I recommend visiting the BNF Toddler Eat Well Leaflet for a helpful visual portion guide.

Polyphenol-rich foods: Dark leafy greens such as spinach, broccoli and cavolo nero, dark berries such as blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, bright orange foods, for example butternut squash and sweet potatoes and don’t forget your culinary herbs and spices – think turmeric, rosemary, cinnamon and ginger, perfect for adding to curries and stews.

  1. Omega 3 fatty acids: This essential group of lipids cannot be made by our body, so we must obtain them through our nutrition. Omega 3 fats help regulate the immune response through the production of certain prostaglandins (groups of lipids involved in dealing with injury and illness) and are rich in brain boosting DHA which is key for cognitive development. Oily fish is the best dietary source of omega 3 and two portions per week (140g cooked) is an excellent amount to aim towards for planning your weekly meals – look out for the marine stewardship council (MSC) certified products for ensuring sustainable sourcing and quality.

Best food sources: Oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon, enriched eggs, plain whole yoghurt, walnuts, milled flax or chia seeds and edamame beans*.

*For vegan and vegetarian children, omega 3 supplementation may be necessary to attain adequate EPA & DHA forms – please seek advice from a nutrition professional regarding supplementation if you are concerned.

For more healthy eating advice, nourishing recipes and consultation bookings, find Lucy Francis at:

Website: www.lucyfrancis.co.uk

Instagram: @lucyhfrancis

Facebook: Lucy Francis Nutrition