Your child's immunity is best built with natural foods

Your child’s immunity is best built with natural foods

  • October 17, 2020

No amount of supplements and vitamins can replace good nutrition, with milk being a vital component of a child’s diet.

During this pandemic, it’s only natural for parents to be concerned about their child’s immunity.

A recent nationwide survey titled #ImmunityMatters, conducted by Mead Johnson Nutrition’s Enfagrow A+ Malaysia, revealed that 96% of parents have concerns about their child’s health in the light of Covid-19 and 94% believe that nutrition is vital in building immunity.

The survey, which involved more than 500 parents with children above the age of one, was carried out across Malaysia to gain a deeper insight into parental behaviour during the current pandemic.

Results showed that a high percentage of parents (82%) believe a child’s immune health can be nurtured and built over time, with 95% of parents being familiar with immunity-boosting foods.

Amongst these numbers, more than 42% made conscious decisions to change their family’s food choices, with family shopping lists shifting to show parental priority in choosing immunity-building foods and nutrients (84%) to build up the family’s natural defences.

The top five food choices parents rated to build a stronger immune system were: vegetables (88%), fruits (80%), meat (55%), milk (54%) and grains (43%).

According to the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents 2013, children are encouraged to consume two to three servings of milk or dairy products a day.

In this study, 63% of parents gave their children milk at least three times a day.

“It is important to lay the building blocks for a good immune system in the first five years of a child’s life because this is the time of rapid physical and mental growth. You are what you eat.

“If you miss that timeframe, all is not lost as immunity can still be built over time.

“I strongly believe a child’s diet should follow the BMV (balance, moderation and variety) concept.

“Then they will have enough energy and their defences will be working optimally,” says clinical dietitian Rozanna Rosly.

During the movement control order (MCO), she found that children were not being adequately hydrated and sleeping later, which can make them more susceptible to illness.

Fewer sick days mean they can eat better, and are more vibrant and energetic.

She says: “A lot of parents send their kids to nannies and babysitters.

“They don’t know if the child is eating properly or if the meals are balanced.

“If your child doesn’t want to eat and you continue to give him junk or unhealthy foods, it doesn’t help his immune system.

“Like adults who have cheat days, junk or fast food is okay sometimes, but for the rest of the time, the meal has to be healthy.

“With this pandemic, we want the children to have good, natural defences.”

‘Milk-ing’ your immunity

Over 70% to 80% of immune cells are found in our gut.

A diet with the right nutrients can help modulate immune function, reduce the risk of infection and amplify the inflammatory response when attacked by bacteria or viruses.

Says Rozanna: “Clinical research has shown the positive effects of milk fat globule membrane (MFGM), which is a nutrient-rich component that is found in our brain.

“Consumption of milk fortified with MFGM has a protective effect against stomach infection and reduces the number of days with fever.

“Polyunsaturated fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is found in our brain and fatty fish such as salmon, also helps immunity and boosts brain development in children.

“They also need prebiotics and probiotics, which can be obtained from fruits and vegetables.

“These act as ‘fertilisers’ to balance the microorganisms that live in the digestive system.”

As for supplements and vitamins, she says children who are eating balanced meals do not need them.

“During this Covid-19 time, adults are buying vitamin C by the truckloads!

“Only children who don’t eat or don’t like drinking milk need supplements, but this has to be given according to age,” she says.

While there is no way to measure immunity, there are certain signs you can look out for.

“If your child falls sick every month, and now falls sick only every other month, then his immunity has improved.

“Usually, when a child falls ill, he won’t want to eat, and if it happens frequently, there is a disruption in growth.

“But he may ask for milk. In fact, even adults who are unwell like to drink milk.

“Milk is a nutrient-dense food, and the fortified ones are rich in calcium and have added vitamins and minerals to support linear growth and boost immunity,” she adds.

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