We are surrounded by millions of microorganisms that include harmful pathogens too. Every year when the monsoon brings the soothing rains that provide respite from the scorching sun, the flu walks hand in hand as well. The damp weather provides the appropriate breeding atmosphere as the microbes get sufficient moisture to grow.
Children playing outdoors, carefree, are more at risk of catching infections. This has increased manifolds with the dangers of pandemics lurking on us. There is no way by which we can exterminate all these bacterias and viruses.
Immunity is inherent in our bodies, however, we need to build it up like every other thing. More than adults, our little munchkins are most vulnerable. Their immune system is still developing and their bodies are learning about new infections.
As a mother, it’s a constant battle, and we are at the lookout for foods that can strengthen the immunity of our kids.
Read to know the foods that make your kid’s immune system strong. Here is the list of 20 foods that helps strengthen immunity.
Nutrients that Boost your Immunity
Nutrition in formative years is a very important factor in determining your child’s immunity. A good nutritional status and practicing proper hygiene are key to strengthen the immune system.
Let us first discuss the essential nutrients that are found in food that cater to this need.
Foods that contain vitamin C, A, and D help immunity. Also, minerals such as zinc, selenium, and iron strengthen your immune system. These are immune boosters, they are WBC activators. They participate in the cell-based immune system.
Vitamin A: This is the nutrient that is critical for the mucous membrane which acts as a barrier and first amongst many of our first lines of defense (1).
Vitamin C: These are powerful antioxidants that strengthen our immune system and help prevent diseases. It helps create new white blood cells that are naturally equipped to ward off infections (2).
Calcium: Calcium is the other most important mineral (8). It plays a central role in the activation of immune cells. However, what we need is ionizable calcium that readily converts into calcium bicarbonate. Unfortunately, most supplementary calcium is calcium carbonate, in other words, chalk.
The body can’t use it. Calcium lactate is the one that works better. Foods that are rich in calcium, vitamin D, and protein can be a great way to have calcium in your diet (9).
Essential fatty acids: These can help modulate inflammation. They are essential for making healthy membranes and healthy barriers for the body.
Studies have stated that within the cells of the immune system there are free fatty acid receptors (FFARs). So when we consume omega-3s, these receptors are signaled for regulating the immune system, the metabolic system, and the inflammatory responses are controlled.
Summary: The nutrients that keep your immune system strong are Vitamin A, C, D, and minerals such as calcium, selenium, iron, and zinc. Essential fatty acids and amino acids help boost immune cell production and proliferation.
20 Foods That Make Your Immune System Strong
It has a tradition spanning thousands of years of helping people improve their immunity.
The active component present in garlic is ‘allicin’. It is a sulfur compound that is highly antibacterial, antiviral, anti-yeast, anti-fungal, and anti-mold properties. Even though garlic doesn’t contain a lot of nutritional property, its medicinal value far exceeds any other food component. It can practically kill most microorganisms (16), (17).
It has 50% of our daily allowance of vitamin C per 100 grams. It is most potent when eaten raw. Garlic also can give you 10% zinc and 18% calcium.
However, do not go all out and start taking loads of garlic. It has a very strong taste and your kids might not like it. So try using them like spices in their foods.
Omelets, stir fry, chicken or fish steak or a good dip with garlic can help you do so. You may also serve a bowl of chicken noodle soup with roasted garlic. It will not only enhance the taste but also can be a great comfort food on a winter night.
Summary: Garlic is full of medicinal value and can work on most microbes, such as bacteria, viruses, fungus, mold, and yeast. You can easily incorporate garlic in your kid’s food and be rest assured it is doing its work.
Ginger helps with digestion that causes better absorption of nutrients (21). It is especially good for gut flora which is part of your immune system. Ginger is also beneficial as an inflammation modulator.
Summary: the antimicrobial and antifungal properties of ginger help keep away pathogens. It helps in digestion and better absorption of nutrients that in turn boosts your immunity.
3. Turmeric Root
A study performed on mice showed that when they get stressed, there is a change in their adrenal cortex. It becomes larger and thicker with increased production of cortisol. BDNF production will decrease, which is highly beneficial for your brain. It is needed to make new brain tissue and new synapses in the brain that are important for proper communication (24).
However, consuming turmeric can help with stress-related health issues. It has beneficial effects on gut healing. It can help heal the gut lining and improve the gut biome as well.
Summary: The active component in turmeric, curcumin helps decrease the effects of stress in your body. It is highly beneficial for your child’s brain and equipped with medicinal properties that help treat several ailments.
4. Go Fishing
Eating fish is good for your health. You must have heard this from the time you were exposed to food. It is all the more true for fatty fishes, which are rich in omega-3s and fat-soluble vitamins (25), (26), (27).
These fishes can make you super healthy. It can not only increase the immunity manifold but also boost the brain activity of your kid.
Fatty fishes are great for your eyes too. Fishes like salmon contain selenium which improves thyroid function and keeps you healthy. They are low in calories and can be eaten in any form you want. Steam it, bake it, grill it, make a curry, or even it’s possible to have it uncooked as sashimi or sushi.
Did you know that tuna is one of the best sources of vitamin B6? This is a vitamin that is very important in enhancing your immune system. In fact, studies have linked it to decrease the risk of cancer (28), (29).
Vitamin B6 also is crucial in building antibodies and regulating inflammation. Sardines, with their plethora of rich nutrients, enhance the functioning of the immune cells.
Therefore, make sure your child’s diet contains fish at least thrice a week.
Summary: Fish is a rich source of important nutrients and a great way to boost your child’s immunity. This is all the more true for fatty fishes which are very high in omega-3s, selenium, and vitamins.
5. Cod-Liver Oil
It may not be always possible to put fish in your child’s diet. In that case, cod liver oil can be the right option with similar nutrient availability.
Did you know that one tablespoon of cod liver oil contains 375% vitamin D?
Therefore, one tablespoon is plenty to give you all of those nutrients we mentioned. These help to make healthy cell membranes as well as a strong inflammation modulator.
Summary: Cod liver oil provides a great amount of vitamin A, D, and omega-3s which are immune boosters and can make your kid super strong.
Now, let’s know about the eggs. If you take 3 large eggs, you get around 33% of vitamin D, 30% of Vitamin A, 22% of zinc, and 9% of calcium. All these nutrients are highly beneficial for a strong immune system as we had mentioned earlier (32), (33), (34).
Studies have shown that low vitamin D in the body makes you more susceptible to infections. The egg can be a great way to boost your vitamin levels. In addition to that, they also contain B vitamins and selenium which are immune-boosting nutrients.
You also get 13 grams of complete protein and it is insulin healthy (35). There has been a lot of talk these days about how people who have insulin resistance are more susceptible to coronavirus. These are the people who are diabetic, obese, have cardiovascular disease and the list is pretty big.
Therefore we need to eat foods that do not increase our insulin.
Summary: Eggs are a powerhouse of vitamin D, A, zinc, selenium, and calcium. High protein in eggs along with these essential nutrients can make your kid strong and ready to fight diseases.
6. Seafood especially King Crab and Oysters
170 grams of king crab gives you around 107% zinc and 20% vitamin C. Now isn’t that surprising? There is virtually no animal protein that contains vitamin C in this amount, other than some organ meats which contain little vitamin C. It will also give you 31g of complete protein and 8% of your daily calcium.
It is also insulin healthy. How often does it happen that a delicacy is so good nutritionally as well? Grab your own crab and have a fun day satisfying your palate and making your body strong.
Just like king crabs, oysters are also loaded with zinc that promotes immune cell maturation and helps in the functioning of T-cells (36).
Summary: Seafood such as king crabs and oysters aren’t only delicacies but can provide important immune-boosting nutrients to your kid. Full of vitamin C, calcium, zinc, and protein, they help in the functioning of immune cells.
170 grams of steak can meet 145% of your daily requirement of zinc. It also provides you with 40 grams of complete protein that contains all the essential amino acids that your body needs to obtain from food.
And what more! It is insulin healthy as well.
Summary: Steak with its high protein and zinc content is great for your kid’s immune system. It’s a tasty way to make them strong.
8. Bell pepper
This beauty that comes in colors of green, yellow, orange, and red has more vitamin C than even any citrus fruits. It can give you around 213% of your daily allowance of vitamin C, 104% of vitamin A, and contains lots of immune booster minerals such as calcium and zinc.
Summary: High in immune-strengthening vitamins and minerals, bell peppers make up a great variety in your child’s dish with its vibrant colors.
9. Cauliflower, Brussel sprout, and …….Broccoli
Cauliflower, brussel sprout, and broccoli are cruciferous vegetables which are very rich in vitamins with high antioxidant property. They contain choline, a nutrient that is highly essential for a healthy diet (39), (40).
These vegetables are very low in calories but high in fibers. These fibers stimulate the growth of good bacteria in your gut and promote better digestive health. In addition to that, they are rich in essential minerals and can be quite filling (41).
Broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse and 100g of broccoli will give us 148% of vitamin C, 21% of vitamin A, vitamin E, and a little amount of zinc and calcium.
It also provides adequate amounts of fibers that boost gut health and also clean out the unwanted bacteria from the GI tract. They also have higher levels of proteins than most vegetables.
Broccoli is pretty popular amongst parents as it is a jack-of-all-trade vegetable. They are most nutritious when eaten raw. However, kids start running off the moment they see this green vegetable.
You might try cheesy broccoli bites or broccoli poppers, and it should work well. Stir-fry or lightly steamed, they are good sides for your meat.
Summary: Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and broccoli can provide you with half to full vitamin C requirements. High in vitamin A and the mineral zinc, these should be a regular in your kid’s diet for a healthy future.
10. Seeds: Pumpkin seeds, Sunflower seeds, Flax seeds….
Seeds, especially the pumpkin and sunflower seeds are small edible seeds packed with good vitamins and minerals. They are nutrition-dense foods containing vitamin E, zinc, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3-fatty acids. All these together make up for strong immune boosters (42).
85 grams of pumpkin seed will meet the quota of your zinc requirement for a day. It gives you 40% healthy fats. These fats can be converted to good end products.
Trail mix can be a great way to make your kids snack on them.
Summary: Seeds are powerhouses of essential nutrients and healthy fats. Its fiber-rich and a mere teaspoon in your kid’s food can make all the difference.
11. The Magic of Mushrooms
One of the greatest sources of the mineral copper is mushrooms. Also, the only non-animal source of vitamin D is mushroom (43). Rich in vitamin B, they contain trace minerals selenium, which prevents cellular and tissue damage (44), (45).
The best part is that the health benefits of mushrooms are not only stuck to the fresh ones, but your options also stretch to dried mushrooms and extracts as well.
For example, shiitake, maitake, and reishi are available in dry form. When incorporated in food, they are full of anti-bacterial, antiviral, and anti-tumor properties. Mushrooms are extremely low in calories and sodium.
Saute it with butter, make it a part of your grilled vegetable, or just make a delicious creamy mushroom sauce, there are many ways by which it can be a part of your kid’s diet that they can enjoy.
Summary: Mushrooms can be a delicious addition to your kid’s diet. Low in calories, virtually no fat, and high in vitamins and minerals make it a mother’s delight.
12. Citrus Fruits
Citrus fruits are packed with vitamin C that helps build up your immune system. As mentioned earlier, they help produce more WBC, which are the soldiers inside our body fighting off enemies, i.e., bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms.
Vitamin C also helps maintain the integrity of the skin which is generally the first line of defense in the body (46).
These fruits are rich in flavonoids such as quercetin, rutin, hesperidin, and tangeretin. They are strong immune-modulators (47).
The best part is the variety. There are many of them available in your supermarket, with a wide range of colors and tastes. They are highly versatile and as mommies, you can go as creative as you want.
Whether it is orange, grapefruit, lime, lemons, clementine, or tangerines, pick up what your child likes and be rest assured it is doing its work.
Summary: Citrus fruits can be a great way to boost your child’s immunity. They are very high in vitamin C and flavonoids which are strong antioxidants and protect your kids from cold and infection.
13. Juicy Berries: Antioxidant Powerhouse
Even though there is no running away from the clutches of viruses surrounding us, a strong immune system can definitely help your little munchkins to fend for themselves.
Colorful berries can be a great way for that. It’s rich in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory benefits. Berries are packed with flavonoids that prevent damage to the body cells while improving your immune functions.
Berries such as elderberry, blueberry, strawberry, and gooseberries also contain Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and potassium that are associated with strong immunity (48).
Ellagic acid which is present in strawberries, raspberries, and pomegranate is highly potent in detoxifying the liver.
Summary: Berries with its high vitamins, flavonoids, and potassium, can help prevent damage to the cells and boosts immune function.
14. Nuts can make you Strong
Nuts, especially almonds are packed with vitamin E and manganese. Both are immune boosters and enhance the natural killer cell (NK cell) activity.
Nuts make up for a tasty snack. In case your kid doesn’t like it, you can slather pure natural nut butter on bread and make them a sandwich that they can’t resist. Nut milk such as almond milk also is popular amongst kids with its varied taste.
Summary: Nuts make you strong. It has omega-3s, zinc, and important vitamins that enhance natural killer cell activity, boosting your immune system.
15. Creamy Yogurt (Probiotics in your Diet)
Fermented foods have always been popular for their beneficial role in gut health. Full of good bacterias, vitamin C, zinc, and iron, they are a great way to boost your immune cells (51).
So be sure to have at least one of them in your kid’s diet. Whether it is creamy yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, or kvass, only a little amount can do great jobs. Even cheese, kimchi, sourdough bread can be a great snack choice with all the benefits of fermented foods.
Summary: Fermented foods are full of good bacterias that keep your gut healthy, a prerequisite for good immune function. They aren’t just healthy but come in a wide variety of deliciousness.
16. Not just for Halloween: Pumpkin
Carving jack-o’-lanterns have been an integral part of the Halloween tradition that originated a long time back. But that isn’t the only way your kids can make use of it.
Pumpkins are a great way to make your kids super strong to fight bacterias. They are loaded with nutrients mostly beta-carotene that are precursors to vitamin A, which is known for its immune-boosting properties (52).
Pumpkin also contains around 20 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin C and can be a great way to help you recover from a cold and cough (53).
Whether it’s pumpkin soup or pumpkin pie, it should be a regular in your kid’s diet. Roasted pumpkin purees or roasted squash mac and cheese can be a way to woo them.
Pumpkin is part of the gourd family. So do other squashes. Most of them such as butternut squash contain roughly 87% water and are full of beta and alpha-carotene. These convert to vitamin A which is very important for the immune system.
Summary: Squashes are fruits that are extremely versatile. Full of nutrients that are important for your child’s immune system, we highly recommend them.
17. Go Green
When you think of a nutritious vegetable, green is the color that is predominantly in your mind. And you aren’t wrong! Green leafy vegetables are one of the most nutritious foods and should definitely be a part of your kid’s diet. They are a great bang for its buck!
They contain carotenoids, lutein, and zeaxanthin along with vitamin A, K, C, B6, folate. They are as high in minerals too. Manganese, potassium, and magnesium are to name a few. These nutrients promote the effective functioning of the spleen, thymus, and thyroid glands which are organs that produce and store antibodies (54), (55).
For example spinach. It is full of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, E, C, and K, folate, manganese, zinc, selenium, and iron. They all make your immune system strong and promote its healthy functioning (56).
Summary: Green leafy vegetables are an all-time favorite of mothers. Full of vitamins and minerals they help your little ones’ immune system as strong as that of supermen.
18. Sweet Potatoes, but not Fries
Sweet potatoes are very high in beta-carotene. They help in strengthening your immune cells such as white blood cells and increases the activity of the killer cells. High sources of vitamin C, it helps produce WBC (57).
You can serve your kid’s sweet potato pancakes or muffins or soup.
Summary: the bright color and natural sweetness of the sweet potato can be a great way to boost your child’s immune system. Bake it or make a side, savory or sweet, your kid will love it.
19. Go Red: Beetroots, Apples, Tomatoes, Watermelon, and Carrots
The red color of fruits and vegetables is because of the pigment lycopene. These are very rich in antioxidants that protect our body from harmful-oxidative stress. Lycopene helps in the activation of T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes. They also produce antibodies and cytokines that help fight the bad microbes (58).
‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’, a saying that we have heard from our childhood. It’s not far from the truth. The red apples contain high amounts of quercetin, which fortifies immune cells.
Summary: Red-colored fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants that can protect you against most diseases. They improve brain function.
Honey has been the mother’s all-time favorite. Doctors also swear by it. The phytonutrients present in honey have antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties that can make your immune system very strong. In fact, doctors call it the immune system builder (59), (60).
Honey is high in antioxidants and has anti-tumor properties. Honey has shown to bring relief to sore throat, persistent cough, and soothe your throat.
One tablespoon of honey provides around 17 grams of carbohydrate and can be a natural source of energy.
Honey also promotes better sleep by facilitating hormones such as tryptophan.
Summary: Honey has phytonutrients that have antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. High in antioxidants, honey is known to be an immune system builder.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the signs that suggest a weak immune system in my kid?
The signs of a weak immune system are frequent sickness, slow healing wounds, constant cold and cough, and tummy troubles on and off. Apart from that if your kid has little to no energy and is tired most of the time, it may suggest a weak immune system.
What are the best vitamins for children’s immune systems?
The vitamins that your child will news for a healthy immune system are vitamin C, E, D, and folic acid. They help activate WBC, proliferation of t and B cells, and stimulating the production of immunoglobulins.
What foods are bad for your child’s immune system?
Foods that are processed and/or made from refined flour are the worst enemy. Sugar beckons infections. Therefore any food such as chips, colas, white bread, cookies, sweets, candies, is the worst for your child’s immune system.
The lesser you open packets the better it is. Processed fruit, processed oil along the above-mentioned foods are the harbinger of bad health. It’s just empty calories and no essential nutrients.
The Final Note
A healthy dietary habit begins in your childhood. As your child’s immune system is still getting stronger and stronger, good food with essential nutrients can definitely support this growth.
Research has shown, the better is your nutrient intake, the more you are equipped to deal with germs and infections.
We mothers can’t eradicate all the dangerous microbes that surround your kid, but can definitely build them strong to fight the germs. Always remember, good nutrition in formative years is very important in determining a child’s immunity.
In addition to that, avoid too much sugar, salt, and processed foods that are full of refined ingredients and unhealthy fats.
When you make a healthy food choice for your child, you equip them with the right gear to face these challenges.