“You can’t prevent getting sick by eating certain foods, but you can boost your immune system and its response to illnesses,” said Denise Holston-West, LSU AgCenter nutritionist.
Holston-West recommended a diet high in phytochemicals – nutrients found in fresh fruits and vegetables and legumes. She also said proteins can help ward off illnesses.
“Protein in many cases has nutrients such as B6 and B12, which can enhance your immune response,” she said, adding that zinc and selenium, also found in some proteins, help with wound healing and are immunity boosters.
Parents should also offer whole grains and calcium-rich foods to their children, according to Holston-West. She said a high calcium snack of yogurt has strains of beneficial bacteria, which may help with intestinal health.
Holston-West said it is better for children to get their nutrients from the foods they eat rather than trying to get them from vitamin supplements.
“Nutrients are more readily available to be absorbed by the body if they are obtained from food rather than supplements, so we recommend getting those vitamins and minerals directly from the fruits and vegetables.”
Parents shouldn’t be dismayed if children often refuse healthful foods. Holston-West said persistence could pay off.
“We found from our research that repeated exposure to food will actually increase their preference. So even though they may not eat something right now, it doesn’t mean they’ll never eat it. You have to keep offering it to them.”
Other immune boosters include getting enough sleep, exercise and fluids.
If your child does get sick, Holston-West said to make sure he or she gets plenty of fluids.
“That’s one of the things we see in children. They’re so small their bodies can get dehydrated a lot quicker than adults,” she said, adding that clear beverages or soup broth work best.