Boosting Baby’s Immunity Through The Gut
Written by Vanessa McNamara, The Travelling Dietitian.
There is no avoiding it – children get sick! As they get older and socialise more with other children, they will be exposed to even more germs, but this is a normal and expected part of growing up.
A key way to boost your child’s immunity and reduce or prevent ongoing illness is through the gut, ensuring they have a diverse microbiome, partly built by consuming a balanced diet and breastfeeding your baby. You can read more about how to build and support your baby’s gut health here (https://taleii.com/blogs/baby/how-to-support-your-baby-s-gut-health) but here are some interesting foods and nutrients to focus on, specific to strengthening your baby’s immunity:
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is crucial for the development of your baby’s bones, teeth, brain and their immune system. After the age of 6 months, breast milk no longer provides adequate vitamin D to meet a baby’s needs. Therefore, many countries now recommend that breastfed babies over the age of 6 months are given a daily liquid vitamin D supplement of 400IU (10mcg). Equally, formula-fed babies generally don’t meet their vitamin D requirements until they are consuming 1 litre of formula each day, which may take several months to reach.
Babies at risk of a vitamin D deficiency include those whose mother had low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy, those with limited sun exposure (most babies) and babies with darker skin.
Zinc is a mineral that is important for immune function, wound healing, and the development of our sense of smell and taste. Several studies have also indicated an adequate zinc intake may shorten the length of the common cold. Further research is still required in this area.
Breastmilk provides enough zinc (2 mg per day) for the first 4 to 6 months but it doesn't provide enough for babies 7 to 12 months old who need 3 mg a day. Babies of this age should eat age-appropriate foods that contain zinc, which include meat, dairy, fish, shellfish and legumes.
3. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are packed with immune-boosting nutrients such as vitamin E, vitamin B6 and manganese, as well as healthy fats and dietary fibre. A handful of nuts acts as a potent multivitamin.
Seeds like pumpkin and sunflower contain vitamin E, zinc and omega 3 fatty acids, which are all beneficial for the immune system and as discussed here (link to inflammation blogpost above), can reduce inflammation.
Add ground nuts and seeds to your baby’s purees, cereals or yoghurt. Use smooth nut butter spreads with no added salt or sugar on fingers of toast, crackers or slices of fruit.
4. Fruit and Vegetables
According to WHO, a colourful diet with a diverse combination of fruit and vegetables (alongside whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein) will keep your baby’s immune system as strong as it can be. Every colour provides a different benefit - dark green leafy vegetables and orange/yellow coloured fruit and vegetables are especially good at strengthening our immunity, red and yellow varieties provide additional vitamin C, which also plays a key role in developing our immune system.
Any amount of fruit and vegetables is better than none, so try to be creative with the way that you present and flavour these important foods. Continue to provide them, even when they are refused, but be sure to make food fun and keep mealtimes relaxed rather than adding pressure to eat them.